Critical Moments Reflection

Brief Description:

The Center for Reflective Community Practice (CRCP) at MIT has recently developed a methodology, Critical Moments Reflection (CMR), to help people reflect on past experiences. This methodology is based on the idea that learning begins with the examination of actual experiences and perspectives on those experiences. CMR leads groups through a reflective process that helps participants step back from their experiences, review their understanding of those experiences, and draw lessons that they can use to improve their future actions or work. The goal of CMR is to enable individuals and groups to uncover or create knowledge from their own experiences for improving their future actions.


external image CRM2.jpg

When to use:

  • Project review and evaluation.
  • Organizational change efforts.
  • Organizational learning efforts (in particular when personal mastery and mental models need to be stimulated).

How to use:

The CMR process traditionally consists of four steps; however, those four steps can be adapted to meet the specific needs of a group.

1. Setting the frame and identifying inquiry questions. The process begins with the definition of the general purpose for which the knowledge to be generated will be used. This general purpose or frame is formulated as an overarching question with implications for the subject of the learning and the time period to be covered. For example, a framing question for a participatory evaluation could be: From the perspective of program beneficiaries, what can we learn about what worked or did not work so well during the first year of the program’s operations which will help improve the program for future years? This overarching question indicates that the subject of the reflection is the effectiveness of program operations from the perspective of program beneficiaries, and the time frame is the first year of program activities.
As a subset of this frame or overarching question, the participants define more concrete questions (referred to as “Inquiry Questions”) that reflect what they would each like to be able to answer with the reflective process. Once these questions have been formulated, the group reviews each of the questions and reformulates and prioritizes the questions until they are able to select one top inquiry question that reflects the shared expectations of the group.

2. Generating critical moments. Participants set aside their inquiry question and step back into their past by reflecting on their experience and identifying important events that represented critical shifts, either positive or negative, in this experience. These events are referred to as “critical moments.” Participants share their critical moments and organize them in a timeline that illustrates the evolution of the whole experience.

3. Selecting critical moments for further analysis. The facilitator re-introduces the top inquiry question that the group identified in step 2, and asks the participants to select the critical moments that, if analyzed in greater detail, would help them answer their top inquiry question. Because the critical moments time line often sheds new light on the experience, the group participants often slightly revise their inquiry question at this point to reflect any new learnings or revelations as a group, and then select the critical moments that, upon further analysis, would have implications for their revised inquiry question.

4. Storytelling, lessons and implications for inquiry question. Participants describe and analyze the selected moments in detail by telling the stories behind the moments and responding to probing questions from the facilitator. This process enables the participants to share, reflect on and analyze the experiences behind the critical moments, in order to identify lessons learned and the implications of these lessons for answering the inquiry question and moving their work forward.


An essential component of the reflection process is the documentation of the stories, critical moments and lessons that emerge, so that it can be given back to the participants for their own future use. CRCP documents the discussions in a variety of ways: charts (written form), video, sound files, drawings, diagrams, pictures, etc. Other ways to document the process while interacting with participants are: timelines with index cards, forms, diaries, and other supporting materials that also capture emotions and thoughts, etc.
Through this documentation process, participants create a diversity of knowledge materials that can be used in the future by themselves and by other groups. Participants must find these materials useful if they are to value them.

For more details see:

Tips and Lessons Learnt

Examples & Stories

(add yours)

Who can tell me more?

  • Nadejda Loumbeva (nadejda.loumbeva [at]

Related Methods/Tools/Practices:

More Information/References/Related Resources: