Reflexive Monitoring in Action

Reflexive Monitoring in Action (RMA) is an interactive methodology to encourage reflection and learning within groups of diverse actors that seek to contribute to system change in order to deal with complex problems. It builds on the assumption that recurrent collective reflection on the current system (barriers as well as opportunities) helps to stimulate collective learning and design and adapt targeted systemic interventions. While doing so, these initiatives develop new or change local rules, practices and relations within the network of actors involved. This takes place in the muddiness of everyday struggles of change trajectories (Van Mierlo et al., 2010a, 2010b, 2013). Key to this methodology is institutional changes while evaluating these ex-durante. Reflexivity is the outcome; the emergent property of an intervention programme or bottom-up innovation initiative developing new coordinated practices while the rules of the game change along in the process of designing new systems. RMA builds on the premise that while the contribution of a single system innovation initiative to a long, capricious system innovation processes cannot be assessed, it is possible to characterise the actions of a project and their outcomes in terms of relevance for system innovation. The ongoing innovation process is evaluated with the aid of middle-range theories about processes of societal change, including communication, learning, network building and conflict management as well as sociological and institutional theories about system innovation and social practices specifically. The reflexive monitor’s frame of reference is the particular system innovation ambition i.e. the drive to develop new rules, relations and material artefacts as articulated by the innovators (if necessary with the aid of the evaluator) rather than the needs of users. Monitoring activities are an integral part of the change initiative; the appointed reflexive monitor, whether a hired person, or someone from the project team, usually starts at the moments of interaction, such as regular team meetings to observe how the system innovation ambition is articulated, whether learning is taking place and ambitious collaborative actions are being designed and carried out. Challenges encountered on the pathway of change in the form of resistance to change that relates to the institutional setting of the innovation initiative, define the activities of the reflexive monitor. Hence, the reflexive monitor is not only an observer but also a facilitator and a sparring partner, with sufficient distance to take a critical stance if needed. In a diversity of ways, he or she encourages participants to reflect upon the relationships between the project activities and results and its institutional setting, and the ambition to change in both short-term actions and long-term goals and future perspectives. In this way, RMA addresses the mechanisms that provide stability to the current unsustainable systems.

Summary of uses: • Encouraging reflection and learning within groups of diverse actors seeking structural change • Stimulating collective learning • Developing new or changing local rules, practices and relations

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Additional Information

Field Value
Contributing organisations Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and Free University Amsterdam (VU)
Contact person Barbara van Mierlo
Alternate contact Cees Leeuwis
Participatory approach / method to address complexity
Target audience
When in the project cycle is the tool useful
Contribution to gender research
Spatial scale
Levels of organizations taken into account
Source of data
Expected output of tool
Type of assessment
Tool manual/User guide
Citation Mierlo, B.C. van; Regeer, B.; Amstel, M. van; Arkesteijn, M.C.M.; Beekman, V.; Bunders, J.F.G.; Cock Buning, T. de; Elzen, B.; Hoes, A.C.and Leeuwis, C. (2010). Reflexive Monitoring in Action. A guide for monitoring system innovation projects.