About Reflection-Action

Reflection-Action is an effort to capture and harmonise the different approaches to transformative practice, including in programming and research, that use participatory tools and processes to challenge and shift power. On this website, you will find a range of participatory tools and techniques that can help create an open, democratic environment in which everyone is able to contribute. We hope that these resources can help practitioners and activists to support people to analyse their situation, identify rights violations, confront power and bring about change. 

The Reflection-Action process starts from people’s analysis of their own context and builds in a cumulative way, looking at the connections between local, national and international levels. Participants follow a cycle of reflection and action, which involves:

  • Understanding the context

  • Identifying and prioritising an issue

  • Planning and action

  • Participatory monitoring and evaluation At each stage, a variety of participatory tools are used to support analysis and planning.

Reflection-Action is the foundation for building people’s agency, starting with their own conscientisation.


Many organisations have a long history of using different participatory approaches, often with different names or brands. This website has been developed by ActionAid and partners to try to find the common ground across these different approaches, to harmonise and bring people together. In 2010 ActionAid programmes were often using the Reflect approach to adult learning, ELBAG (Economic Literacy and Budget Analysis groups), PVA (Participatory Vulnerability Analysis), STAR (Stepping Stones and Reflect) and two or three other named approaches. Whilst each method had its strengths they all drew on the same philosophies, processes and tools. By using separate names, we tended to fragment peoples’ analysis and waste resources - even to the extent of organising separate groups in a single community. Reflection-Action draws on the best from all of these, breaking down the barriers and working to harmonise efforts which we hope will enable a more creative dialogue between practitioners and [or: ‘, ‘including] researchers working on different issues in different organisations.

Reflection-Action was inspired by Robert Chambers’ ground-breaking work on participatory methods which started with the development of Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA) and then Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA). The original aim of both RRA and PRA was to use visualisations and other participatory tools in order to enable excluded people with often low levels of literacy to articulate their knowledge and contribute to discussions about development.

The work of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was also influential in the development of Reflection-Action. The central premise of Freire’s theory is that no education is neutral – it can be used for domestication or liberation. Freire criticised what he called “banking education” in which students learnt by rote and were seen as empty vessels to be filled with learning. He called for a liberating education based on dialogue between teachers and learners. One challenge Freire saw was shifting people from a passive or fatalistic view of the world, where they believe change is not possible, towards a more active view. The term conscientisation, coined by Freire, is the process of enabling people to perceive the social, political and economic contradictions of their lives and to take action against them. It is a process involving reflection and action that enables people to perceive the reality of oppression as a situation which they have can transform.

How does it work?

At local level, Reflection-Action circles are set up involving the most marginalised people in the community. A circle may be a completely new group or an existing group. Separate circles may be set up for different groups, for example, women, children, small-scale farmers, or members of the Dalit community. Circles sometimes focus on a specific issue, such as land rights or education.

Supported by a skilled local facilitator, the circle members use a variety of participatory tools to analyse their situation, identifying rights violations and working together to bring about change. At this initial stage the circle members meet regularly, often more than twice a week, over a period of two to three years. There is a focus on empowerment and capacity building with some campaigning and solidarity work. Often there is a strong focus on building literacy and other communication skills.

After the initial circle period of 2-3 years, the circle members may decide to set up a CBO or people’s organisation in order to continue their work together. At this stage there will be an increased focus on solidarity and campaigning. The process always starts from people’s analysis of their own context and builds in a cumulative way, looking at the connections between local, national and international levels.

The Reflection-Action principles

The 8 principles of ActionAid's HRBA apply to Reflection-Action as to all our work:

  1. We put people living in poverty first and enable their active agency as rights activists.

  2. We analyse and confront unequal power.

  3. We advance women’s and girl’s rights.

  4. We work in partnership.

  5. We are accountable and transparent.

  6. We rigorously monitor and evaluate to evidence our impact and we critically reflect and learn to improve our work.

  7. We ensure links across levels – local, national, regional and international – to ensure we are addressing structural causes of poverty.

  8. We are innovative, solutions-oriented and promote credible alternatives.


The following key resource books are recommended:

  • Reflect Mother Manual, ActionAid International, 1996.

  • Communication & Power, ActionAid International, 2003.