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Research-informed practice: After-action reviews

Written By: Gary Jones and Deborah Netolicky
1 min read
What’s the idea?

An essential part of being a research-informed practitioner is assessing the outcome of the decision you have taken.

What does it mean?

Initially developed by the U.S. army, an after-action review (AAR) is a group process designed to give you clear steps to review activities and identify the lessons learned. The AAR consists of four steps:

  1. What did we set out to do?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Why did it happen?
  4. What are we going to do next time?

An AAR can be used to help you learn from a range of situations, such as discussions over collaboration with another department or reviewing a scheme of work.

Marhal (2018) identifies a number of key features of an AAR, which include:

  • Inclusivity, with everyone having a say
  • Non-threatening language being used with a no-blame culture
  • Identifying what went well and how, if necessary, it could be done again
  • Open and honest discussions of what could be done better, with recommendations in the form of lessons learned.

What are the implications for teachers?

Marhal (2018) suggests an AAR should be carried out in the following manner:

  • The ‘facilitator’ of the session explains the context of the AAR and how it will be conducted
  • Individuals are then asked to reflect on the four AAR questions (see above)
  • On a flip-chart, create a template with two columns: ‘I liked’ and ‘I wished’
  • With the help of the participants, the facilitator prioritises what was liked and wished for, and works out how to address these. This may be a longer process than just the meeting – you may need an action plan, for example
  • The group then identifies the next steps for how the learning will be documented and shared with all relevant stakeholders
  • The facilitator then thanks the participants and closes the AAR session
  • After the workshop, an appointed person summarises the results and communicates this to all relevant stakeholders.

Want to know more?

  • Mahal A (2018) After Action Review: Continuous Improvement Made Easy. Basking Ridge, NJ: Technics Publications.
  • Tannenbaum SI and Cerasoli CP (2013) Do team and individual debriefs enhance performance? A meta-analysis. Human Factors 55(1): 231–245.
  • Weick KE and Sutcliffe KM (2011) Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty (2nd edition). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.
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