10 tips for running a successful Pause & Reflect debrief

David Gurteen rang me just before Christmas.  He’d read my recent blog post about the  Pause & Reflect (P&R) debrief session I was running for the Brighton Food Waste Colllective and wanted to understand how it differed from an After Action Review (AAR).

Here’s what I told him and via this link his observations on the technique:

In a P&R debrief the team (with the help of the Facilitator) is attempting to go beyond the questions posed by an AAR: what was supposed to happen; what did actually happen; what went well; and what might we do differently next time?

While these are valid areas of investigation they tend not to address the how or why an event succeeded or failed and overlook aspects of behaviour, space and culture.

P&R sessions look at all of these through the use of timelines and objects by recreating what happened formally and informally, before the event, during the event and after the event.

The technique I like to use is an A3 version of the Narrative Grid about which I’ve written before.

By way of an example (and with the kind permission of Vera, Mei-Weh and Saskia) I’d like to draw on the recent P&R session in Brighton.

Food Waste Collective Pause & Reflect:

We met informally at a quirky venue (Blue Man Bar) in Brighton. Despite background noise the team were able to raise and openly discuss the event. Here’s what I asked them to think about in advance:

The aim is to identify learning’s from the recent Food Collective Event that you might apply to current and future events. This session is best done with a timeline /narrative grid and I will ask these questions for each stage (Before/During/After):

*     What was expected to happen?

*     What actually occurred?

*     What went well and why?

*     What can be improved and how? And finally,

*     What behaviours in others did you most admire / find most useful?

I will take notes so you just need to bring along your keen minds, memories, observations and most importantly a photo or object from the event.

some key outcomes:

The session designed primarily as a capacity building/knowledge transfer session lasted but an hour.  In that time a couple of key outcomes emerged and each of the team was able to highlight behaviours in others that made a real difference.  It underpinned my belief that by being appreciative in the approach to debriefs and focusing on events a lot more emerges.

Here’s an extract from the notes I took:

P&R Outcomes Dec13

when, where and how to use a Pause & Reflect?

Here are 10 suggestions on how to make it work:

  1. use it to conduct a debrief on an event or decision that has taken place in the last month
  2. use pictures and objects from the event or decision to amplify key moments and trigger memories – brief them about the need to bring something along
  3. get people to fill in the narrative grid / timeline as they go and if you have different cultures involved ask different groups to fill in their own timelines – in the process of comparing you will discover much
  4. probe by asking for examples – in the above case the need to get volunteers on a Thursday to help unload FareShare vans emerged only by going through the event step by step
  5. when someone makes a comment such as ‘it was so organised when I arrived’ get them to elaborate and contrast – it will generate a story that becomes an important narrative of the event
  6. make the session informal (and reflective of the organisational culture) but do have an agenda and stick to it – be clear about the roles each one is playing at the P&R
  7. get participants to talk about the environment and location where the event or decision you are holding a P&R about took place
  8. don’t be afraid to let the silence hang in sticky moments – behaviours (most admired which might have made an event successful) often emerge slowly
  9. ensure (with permissions) that you take photos of the P&R and include them in the write up
  10. finally, don’t be too ambitious: 3 hours is the maximum I’ve found works and look at 1 event or decision not a whole project.



‘Pause & Reflect’ session vs. an ‘After Action Review’

Pause & Reflect AgendaTonight (Thursday) I will be in Brighton on behalf of Plan Zheroes running a Pause & Reflect session with the Food Waste Collective. We are going to be taking a look at the recent event they held at Brighton University and which I wrote about a few weeks back – when a good deed is lentil shaped: why a group of Brighton based women deserve our support.

Since a previous posting about a Plan Zheroes Pause & Reflect session on a CSR Day we ran attracted some interest I decided to share with a wider audience how I go about setting them up

The agenda is time specific and requires the attendees to have thought in advance about an object or image that sums up the event for them. The other departure from the more traditional After Action Review process is that I try to get people to focus on the behaviours in others that really helped make the event work.  This appreciative inquiry technique is one I’ve found to be highly effective reflecting as it does on behaviours in a group environment.

the power of 3

I’ve always been a great believer in the principle that less is more especially when looking back at an event or decision. And I tried to get everyone I’ve mentored or coached to focus on ‘the power of 3’. Most people can remember 3 things and act on them.

Professor Victor Newman often tells a story about one of his early experiences going into an organisation and finding a lessons learned exercise came up with more than 200 ‘lessons’ which were noted down and taken away never to be acted upon.

3 ‘things’ is also a theme I apply in reverse brainstorming when getting people to consider how they can tackle ‘stuff’ that is broken.

capacity building and knowledge transfer

Tonight’s event is part of Plan Zheroes ongoing commitment to support volunteers outside of its core market. If we can equip others with basic skills and tools to improve the way they run events and interact with food donors and recipients fewer people will be facing food poverty and we will all be making better use of surplus food.

I am looking forward to the session.

when a good deed is lentil shaped: stopping food waste in Brighton

Vara Zakaharov of Food Waste Collective having a discussion about potential donors with a commumity chef

Vera Zakaharov of Food Waste Collective having a discussion about potential donors with a commumity chef from Emmaus Brighton.

Friday was one of those days that restored my faith in human nature.  I was in Brighton on behalf of Plan Zheroes supporting The Food Waste Collective’s 2nd food share event, held at University of Brighton’s Moulscoomb campus.

The impetus for this event came from a group of women who call Brighton their home: Vera Zakharov, Mei-Wah Tang, Caitriona Donahoe, Saskia Wesnigk-Wood and Josie Jeffery.

The timing could not have been more apposite: WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) established as an independent not-for-profit company that aims to minimise resource use and divert priority materials from landfill recently published an intriguing report, the  WRAP Review of Waste in the Hospitality and Food Service Sector that looks at how inter alia the UK can make better use of surplus food.

It notes: Redistribution of surplus food so that it is still eaten before it becomes waste, is preventing food waste, e.g. sending surplus food to a charity.

Mei-Wah Tang welcoming two members of a local charity and getting them to sign the PlanZheroes Charity Agreement

Mei-Wah Tang welcoming two members of a local charity and getting them to sign the PlanZheroes Charity Agreement

It was encouraging to see how many young people from many nationalities all getting together to make sure that fewer families are forced to make eat or heat decisions.

As a former Lewesian I was not alone, Pearl and Helen from the Lewes Food Bank were there showing the ‘young bucks’ how to bag up quantities of food into manageable portions.  This is a skill and one that can make a huge difference on the day in terms of reducing waste and saving time for volunteers.

Helen and Pearl from the Lewes Food Bank. Watch out for their bagging up video!

Helen and Pearl from the Lewes Food Bank. Watch out for their bagging up video!

So the ‘dynamic duo’ have both agreed to produce a video that shows others the tricks of the trade. I will provide the link in due course.

Pearl will be in addition establishing a link with Le Magasin in Lewes (the first donor to sign up there last year when I launched the Plan Zheroes intiative in Lewes) who have agreed to supply the Lewes Food Bank one of 3 in the town supported by Mayor, Ruth O’Keefe.

Some of Pearl and Helen's handiwork.

Some of Pearl and Helen’s handiwork.

I heard some wonderful stories of community engagement/ plaudits for Nathan of FareShare Brighton and of the superb work of Emmaus Brighton who grow and cook their own food in Portslade and note:

Research shows that for every £1 invested in a community, there is an £11 social, environmental and economic return, with savings to the benefits bill, health services and a reduction in crime reoffending.

Let me share one initiative just getting off the ground which I think deserves our support.

Sue Saunders of St Andrews School Hove is one of a growing number of parents who are concerned about the increasing levels of obesity among our young children.

Sue Sanders, one of the St Andrews School, Hove's cookery tuition team is looking for a cooker.

Sue Sanders, one of the St Andrews School, Hove’s cookery tuition team is looking for a cooker.

She (and I) bemoan the growth of fast food, TV dinners and the lack of culinary skills among the population. Austerity and consumerism are forcing both parents to work which is impacting family time and conversations over food which is where much social interaction occurs.

So Sue and her team are attempting to teach school children basic cookery skills so they can develop a taste for and interest in good food. Sue was there to pick up ingredients and needs a small cooker so if anyone can help here’s her email address (reproduced with her permission): sussaunders25@hotmail.com.

Apart from the copious amounts of food that was shared, Vera, Mei-Wah and Josie managed to sign up 3 charities to the PlanZheroes food map and registered Food Waste Collective as donors.

Plan Zheroes Food Map on Mei-Wah's iPad

Plan Zheroes Food Map on Mei-Wah’s iPad

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the visit was to see the enthusiasm among everyone who was giving up their time and skills to try and make a difference to the lives of people who are less fortunate.

At a time when immigration is in the spotlight it was noticeable that the volunteers came from a wide cross section of nationalities and ethnic background where food and community support are more of an ingrained part of the social fabric.

Plan Zheroes is delighted to have been able to support the Food Waste Collective.

scores on the doors

From Vera:

our end of event stats:

27 volunteers + 3 pallets of surplus food x 8 hours = 19 food projects and charities happily receiving much-needed food donations.

So far, since the first event in August, we have distributed over 3 tonnes of perfectly good, healthy delicious dry goods to local projects.

‘this is a theme which has reached its moment… there is definitely a need for this’

A quote from Ruth O’Keeffe District and County Councillor.

Thanks to many volunteer tweeters an account has been published of the inaugural Knowledge Cafe: making use of surplus food held at Le Magasin Lewes on Monday 24th September 2012. A fuller account of the meeting is available as a Storify record.

It was a chance to learn how London is using surplus food and feeding those who are struggling; to discuss how the PlanZheroes project has worked in London and to see if the conditions are right for it to work in Lewes and beyond.

Here are some of the highlights:


Plan Zheroes (PZ) are the ‘community noticeboard’ of donors and recipients of surplus food. They are not for profit and a core priniciple is that they do not charge either for the acquisition or provision of surplus food.

  • In a way they are brokers providing a service that brings parties at all levels of the food supply chain into contact with each other through their interactive map.
  • There is a need in and around Lewes: an increasing number of people are struggling and this will be exacerbated by changes in benefits from April 2013. Yet surplus food exists and while great initiatives are already under way many people are unaware of what others are doing and can offer (where the Plan Zheroes map comes in).
  • ‘There is no pressure, we are just trying to make good connections work’.
  • One of PZ’s main ‘USP’s’ is its ability to come up with imaginative solutions e.g. getting chefs to treat surplus prepared food as potential ingredients for use in other dishes e.g. salmon into Quiche or fish pie and to teach people how to cook with ‘leftovers’.
  • Despite established supply and delivery chains typical business models do not cover surplus prepared food of the type that comes from catering, restuarants, pubs, cafes and hotels. It needs to be consumed within a 12 hour period.
  • Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes: to help spot ‘Zheroes’:establishments willing to donate food/ organisations who wish to receive food and engage those people with the map; to help with food distribution -getting it from the donor to the recipient.
  • Don’t criticise and don’t push.  ‘People take time, they work at different speeds and have different comfort levels.
  • The potential launch of a funded mobile app will improve real time access so both sides of the food chain will be able to post information that is acted on much quicker.
  • A number of good ideas for sourcing and delivering surplus food emerged.  Most of the people who attended were excited by the prospect of using the Plan Zheroes map to help connect donors with recipients: ‘let’s get food from A to B. The food is there, the Demand is there. Let’s help distribute!’

Background to the meeting:

This came about following a chance meeting between a resident of Lewes (Paul J Corney) with Maria Ana Neves one of the co-founders and inspirations behind Plan Zheroes a citizen led movement to help use surplus food in London.
After a 3 month awareness campaign (use of social media, direct and targeted mailings to schools, centres of worship, publicans, gp groups, charities, volunteer groups, restaurants and hotels), it was decided to hold an open evening (a Knowledge Cafe) to look at what Plan Zheroes had acheived to date in London; whether a need existed in and around Lewes and finally could a Plan Zheroes style operation work here.

It is important to note the tacit and often explicit support of Lewes District Council Officials, Councillors and Transition Town Lewes (a number of whom were at the meeting).

Plan Zheroes:
Maria Ana Neves
Knowledge et al team:
Paul J Corney (Catalyst); Ana Aguilar-Corney (Registration & Curator); Joe Offer (Curator)
Le Magasin hosts:
Frankie; Maddie; Joe; Cameron; Xavi
Cross section of volunteer groups, street evangelists, gp surgery heads, councillors, council officials, leaders of networks and business people. NB Names have been omitted to preserve anonymity.