How to use Gibbs' reflective practice cycle in your campaigns

When it comes to campaigning, learning from experience is important. But without reflection, improvement is difficult. Learn how you can use Gibbs’ reflective practice cycle to turn your experiences into insights and better your future campaigns.

20 Dec 2023

The reflective practice cycle was designed by learning researcher Graham Gibbs in 1988 and has been used in a variety of different ways since. According to Gibbs, by practicing reflection you’ll improve your present and future performance. We can’t just rely on experience in our campaigning, we need to reflect and assess to improve and meet our goals.

Gibbs’ reflective cycle is a split into 6 stages: description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion and action plan. This framework allows you to slow down your thought process so you can avoid jumping to quick conclusions about your campaigns.

Using Gibbs’ reflective cycle

You can use the reflective cycle practice alone or with a group. Go through each section and answer the guiding questions designed to help you to reflect and assess your campaign.

If you find that only a few questions are relevant to your campaign, answer those. But do try to answer at least one question from each section to fully engage with the cycle.

Describe your campaign 

Describe the situation you want to reflect on in detail and focus on what happened. Your feelings and conclusions will come later.  

  • What happened?  
  • When and where did it happen?  
  • Who was present?  
  • What did you and the other people do?  
  • What was the outcome of the situation?  
  • Why were you there?  
  • What did you want to happen?  

Explore your feelings and thoughts

Explore any feelings or thoughts that you had during the campaign and how they may have impacted the experience.  

  • What were you feeling during the situation?  
  • What were you feeling before and after the situation?  
  • What do you think other people were feeling about the situation?  
  • What do you think other people feel about the situation now?  
  • What were you thinking during the situation?  
  • What do you think about the situation now?  

Evaluate your campaign

Evaluate what worked and what didn’t work in the situation. Try to be as objective and honest as possible. To get the most out of your reflection focus on both the positive and the negative aspects of the situation, even if it’s primarily one or the other.  

  • What was good and bad about the experience? 
  • What went well? 
  • What didn’t go so well? 
  • What did you and other people contribute to the situation (positively or negatively)? 

Analyse your campaign

The analysis step is where you have a chance to make sense of what happened. Up until now you have focused on details around what happened in the situation. Now you have a chance to extract meaning from it. You want to target the different aspects that went well or poorly and ask yourself why. 

  • Why did things go well?  
  • Why didn’t it go well?  
  • What sense can I make of the situation?  
  • What knowledge can help me understand the situation? 

 Draw your conclusions

Make conclusions about what happened. Summarise your learnings and highlight what changes could improve future outcomes. It should be a natural response to the previous sections.

  • What did I learn from this situation?
  • How could this have been a more positive situation for everyone involved?  
  • What skills do I need to develop for me to handle a situation like this better?  
  • What else could I have done?  

 Create an action plan

Plan what you would do differently in a similar or related situation in the future. It can also be extremely helpful to think about how you’ll help yourself to act differently. This is so that you don’t only plan what you’ll do differently, but also how you’ll make sure it happens. Sometimes just the realisation is enough, but other times reminders can be helpful.

  • If I had to do the same thing again, what would I do differently?
  • How will I develop the required skills I need?
  • How can I make sure that I can act differently next time?