Reflective practice is a critical skill across professions and personal life, allowing individuals to learn from experiences and apply those lessons in future situations. The “What? So What? Now What?” model, developed by Rolfe et al., based upon the technique of Terry Borton in the 1970s, provides a structured framework for this practice. Using this model, we are guided through the process of reflection by asking three simple, yet profound, questions. Below, we explore this model in detail, offering insights, questions to ask yourself, and, at the bottom of this page, examples across different contexts.

This phase involves objectively describing the situation or experience, focusing on the facts and what occurred.

What?

The “What?” stage is all about setting the scene and laying out the details of the experience without interpretation or judgment. It’s crucial to be as detailed and objective as possible, capturing the sequence of events, the people involved, the setting, and any actions that were taken. This foundation is essential for effective reflection, as it ensures that the analysis and learning are grounded in reality.

‘What’ Questions

  • What happened?
  • What were my initial expectations?
  • When and where did it occur?
  • Who was involved?
  • What actions did I take? (What did I do?)
  • What was the outcome?
  • Were there any notable reactions or responses?
  • What was my role in the situation?
  • What were the immediate consequences?
  • Were there any underlying factors contributing to the situation?
  • What did I see/observe?
Based on what the ‘What’, analyse the experience, understanding its significance, and extract lessons learned.

So What?

The “So What?” phase dives into the implications of the event, encouraging you to think critically about its impact and the lessons it offers. Here, you reflect on why the experience matters, exploring your reactions, the effectiveness of your actions, and the broader consequences. This reflection helps identify personal biases, assumptions, and areas for growth, fostering deeper understanding and personal development.

‘So What’ Questions

  • How did I feel during the experience?
  • What did I notice during the experience?
  • What surprised me?
  • Why was this experience significant?
  • What have I learned about myself from this situation?
  • How did my actions or reactions contribute to the outcome?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • What did I like, or dislike about this experience?
  • How did the experience relate to your coursework/course learning outcomes?
  • How has this experience changed my perspective or understanding?
  • What are the broader implications of this experience?
  • What assumptions did I make?
  • Were my assumptions challenged? (How?)
  • What skills or knowledge did I gain or need to develop?
Based on what the ‘So What’, this final stage focuses on planning future actions based on the reflections and insights gained from the experience.

Now What?

The “Now What?” phase is where reflection turns into actionable plans. It’s about looking forward and deciding how the lessons learned can be applied to future situations. This may involve setting new goals, changing behaviours, or implementing strategies to avoid past mistakes. It’s a commitment to personal and professional growth, ensuring that each experience, whether positive or negative, contributes to ongoing development.

‘Now What’ Questions

  • What steps can I take to apply what I’ve learned?
  • How can I avoid similar issues in the future?
  • What new goals or objectives have emerged from this reflection?
  • How will I change my approach or behaviour going forward?
  • What resources or support do I need to make these changes?
  • What other work do you need to do?
  • Who can provide feedback or guidance as I apply these lessons?
  • What challenges might I face in implementing this learning, and how can I overcome them?
  • How can I ensure that I continue to learn and grow from future experiences?
  • What specific actions will I take in the short term?
  • How will I measure the effectiveness of these changes?
  • How can this learning be applied in the future?
  • How can you share these learnings with others?

Some Examples

Product Engineering

What? I discovered a recurring flaw in the design of a product prototype during testing.

So What? This discovery was a critical moment for me, emphasising the importance of thoroughness in my work and the potential consequences of oversight on safety and product quality.

Now What? I plan to collaborate closely with the design team to revise the prototype and advocate for a more rigorous testing phase in future projects to prevent similar issues.

Weekend Plans

What? After a misunderstanding about weekend plans, I found myself in a significant argument with a family member. They said they did not understand what we had agreed by text message and I found myself shouting at them in frustration.

So What? I was angry that they did not understand what I meant, however afterwards I felt guilty and believe I may have overreacted, as I saw how upset and shocked they were. This argument made me realise the importance of clear communication and the impact of assumptions on my relationships.

Now What? I’ve decided to improve how I communicate my expectations and to establish a regular routine to discuss plans and feelings openly with my loved ones. When I next have a disagreement, I will stay calm and establish the facts without shouting.

Obstacles in Teamwork

What? As we faced a critical deadline, my team and I encountered a significant obstacle that put our project at risk of missing our target.

So What? This situation was a stark reminder of the importance of teamwork and effective communication for me; it showed me how essential each member’s contribution is to overcoming challenges and achieving our goals.

Now What? Moving forward, I’ve resolved to foster a more collaborative environment in our team, encouraging open communication and proactive problem-solving. Together, we’ll develop a contingency plan to ensure we’re better prepared for any future hurdles.

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