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Pause and Reflect

What is it? 

Pause and reflect is central to collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) as well as to improving programming and development outcomes. It cuts across key CLA considerations, such as: approaching collaboration and coordination strategically; “[valuing] and [using] all forms of knowledge in the development of strategies, projects, and activities”; and enabling “partners and local and regional actors [to] play a central role in USAID’s efforts to be a learning organization” (ADS, 117).

USAID’s ADS Chapter 201 defines pause and reflect as “a component of learning and adaptive management, the act of taking time to think critically about ongoing activities and processes and plan for the best way forward” (143). Therefore, pause and reflect can be thought of as encompassing a broad range of activities that provide structure and intentionality to taking stock of organizational processes in addition to programming outcomes, successes, and challenges.

Furthermore, pause and reflect sessions can generate learning, knowledge, and even data that contribute to evidence-based decision-making and adaptive management. As noted in ADS 201, it is recommended to “[pause] periodically to reflect on new learning and knowledge and [adapt] accordingly” (201.3.7, 115).

Guidance and Tools

Need help getting started?

Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team already uses Pause & Reflect and how you could improve. As you plan, it may also help to think through how you will resource your CLA efforts.

Important Tips

  • There is no one way to pause and reflect! Many different activities can be considered pause and reflect activities. A pause and reflect session can be an in-person after action review meeting, or facilitated as a Google Doc staff journal that is open for input on a quarterly basis. The important thing is the intention of the activity as a thinking and learning opportunity.

  • Set a purpose. Determining an agreed-upon purpose with participants is a useful first step when undertaking a pause and reflect session. This common understanding sets the tone for the session and encourages participant investment in the discussion and outcomes. 

  • Be inclusive. The most successful pause and reflect sessions seriously consider  how to involve participants in a way that meets their needs and diverse learning styles, while holding a safe space for sharing different perspectives.