After Action Reviews – a simple low-tech learning tool anyone can use
A brief interlude from my usual rants and thought experiments – here’s a quick piece I did for an internal blog about after action reviews – one of the simplest and most well established knowledge management tools, but which hasn’t really caught on in UNICEF for some reason.
The After Action Review (AAR) is a structured review or de-brief process for analyzing what happened, why it happened, and how it can be done better, by the participants and those responsible for the project or event.
The AAR was originally developed by the US Army and is a simple group learning tool that can be used by anyone, not requiring any specialized software or KM expertise. It often forms part of the KM toolkit of other organizations in both the public and private sectors – but for some reason it’s never really caught on in UNICEF.
When to use:
* During and after a project to reveal what has been learned, reassess direction, and review both successes and challenges.
* During and after an event monitor and evaluate.
How to Use:
Learning While Doing – Time to Reflect (From Chris Collison’s Learning to Fly)
1. Hold the AAR immediately. AARs are carried out immediately whilst all of the participants are still available, and their memories are fresh. Learning can then be applied right away, even on the next day.
2. Create the right climate. The ideal climate for an AAR to be successful is one of openness and commitment to learning. Everyone should participate in an atmosphere free from the concept of seniority or rank. AARs are learning events rather than critiques. They certainly should not be treated as personal performance evaluation.
3. Appoint a facilitator. The facilitator of an AAR is not there to ?have? answers, but to help the team to ?learn? answers. People must be drawn out, both for their own learning and the group?s learning.
4. Ask “what was supposed to happen” The facilitator should start by dividing the event into discrete activities, each of which had (or should have had) an identifiable objective and plan of action. The discussion begins with the first activity: “What was supposed to happen”
5. Ask “what actually happened” This means the team must understand and agree facts about what happened. Remember, though, that the aim is to identify a problem not a culprit.
6. Now compare the plan with reality. The real learning begins as the team of teams compares the plan to what actually happened in reality and determines “Why were there differences” and “What did we learn” Identify and discuss successes and shortfalls. Put in place action plans to sustain the successes and to improve upon the shortfalls.
7. Record the key points. Recording the key elements of an AAR clarifies what happened and compares it to what was supposed to happen. It facilitates sharing of learning experiences within the team and provides the basis for a broader learning programme in the organisation.
USAID have also developed more detailed explanation and guidance.
The graphic above comes from a great blog post by Chris Collison on using the AAR approach on a flight during that 15 minutes when you are not allowed to use electronics.
Are you using this approach where you work? Any useful tips or experiences to share?