Critically reflective practice in human resource development

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Journal of European Industrial Training

ISSN: 0309-0590

Article publication date: 6 June 2008



Rigg, C., Trehan, K. and Stewart, J. (2008), "Critically reflective practice in human resource development", Journal of European Industrial Training, Vol. 32 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Critically reflective practice in human resource development

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Journal of European Industrial Training, Volume 32, Issue 5.

Critical reflection has been gaining advocates in recent years as a response to the critiques of reflection for being purely instrumental, overly individualised, or for serving narrowly defined purposes of individual growth. Critical reflection, however, is a broadly interpreted term, with meanings that range from questioning assumptions and presuppositions, through to more explicit engagement in a process of drawing from critical[1] perspectives to make connections between learning and work experiences, so as to better understand and ultimately change personal, interpersonal and organisational practices.

This special issue explores the challenges and opportunities for expediting critical reflection in human resource development, particularly in the development of managers and professionals. It presents a collection from a number of leading figures who have been integrating critical reflection into their work as HRD practitioners within organisation-based development programmes as well as within the academy. Based on their experimentations and experience the contributions share ideas of how practically critical reflection can be employed and discuss issues, insights and implications. These include:

  • theory underlying critical reflection;

  • models of application;

  • encouraging critical reflection in-company developers’ perspective;

  • “holding the space” facilitating critical reflection;

  • engaging in critical reflection developing professional practice;

  • critical reflection as “organised practice” for developing learning in organisations;

  • emotions and power in the employment of critical reflection; and

  • questioning the use of “critical reflection”

Six articles are included. Aileen Lawless (Senior Lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University) and Liz McQue (Chief Executive designate, North West Employers, England) open the issue with a paper that relates how their collaboration on an MA in Strategic HR is informed by action learning ethos and method and the emancipatory potential of critical reflection. Working and writing as a partnership between academic and practitioner, their article explores the challenges involved in facilitating a community of critically reflective practitioners. The three contributions that follow all relate experiences of engaging critical reflection on programmes based within the academy. Helen Francis and John Cowan also write as a partnership, drawing on their personal experiences as a programme leader (Master’s in HRM) and an educational consultant, to describe their strategy for critically reflective continuous professional development (CPD) of personnel and development practitioners. They argue that achieving an alignment between the development and assessment of student capabilities is vital to the development of critical reflection, and explain how their strategy for CPD, framed by a social approach to learning that places peer interaction at the forefront of the learning processes involved, supports self-management of this process.

The third article, by Jim Stewart, Anne Keegan and Pam Stevens, explores how teaching and assessing reflective learning skills can support postgraduate practitioners studying organisational change and explores the thorny challenges for tutors in assessing reflective journals. Moving to doctoral education, Sally Sambrook and Jim Stewart present an account of how critical reflection has been facilitated within the context of a professionally focused DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) programme. They present a critical and reflexive account from a facilitator’s perspective and offer practical suggestions for embedding critical reflection from the beginning of a programme and throughout written assignments.

The fifth paper, by Clare Rigg and Kiran Trehan, moves out of the academy to present a rare account of working with critical reflection within an organisational development programme. They explore issues raised by operating in a distinctive context characterized by commercial relations, multiple stakeholders and a tension over whether participants are constructed as customers or organisation change members. Through consideration of the potential outcomes of critical reflection for participants, in-company developers and management/organisation development providers, they ultimately confront us with the question of whether attempting critical reflection within in-company programmes is too difficult. Following this questioning tone, the final contribution, from Elaine Swan, challenges the very notion that critical reflection can by accepted as a pedagogical practice, given its potential fall into the “confessional turn”.

This collection will be of great value to those contemplating using critical reflection within developmental programmes as well as to those who might be looking to make sense of their experience of engaging with critical reflection. We hope you find it interesting and provocative, and that ultimately it provides you with some ideas or thoughts to take into your own work.


1. Critical perspectives, for example, from critical theory, liberationist (Freire), feminist and post-colonialist scholarship, Marxism and labour process analysis, to social constructionist approaches to identity.

Clare RiggInstitute of Technology, Tralee, Ireland

Kiran TrehanUniversity of Lancaster, Lancaster, UK

Jim StewartLeeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, UK

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