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Reflection refers to thoughtfulness, concentration, meditation, contemplation – especially the calm, careful, continued consideration of something. Often it involves observing and coming to understand the functioning of one’s own mind or heart (which is sometimes called self-reflexive awareness).

In the context of dialogue and deliberation, we are mainly interested in collective reflection in which people – through dialogue and deliberation – think together about something. They may, in the process, take notice of how they are doing, or of the dynamics of their conversation or their group, often with the help of a facilitator. All this is collective reflection.

Reflection tends to have a calm, thoughtful quality to it. We aren’t talking about arguments or deadlines here.

Reflection also has two technical meanings in the field of dialogue and deliberation.

  1. Reflection is often short for Reflective Listening or Mirroring in which a listener says back to a speaker what the listener heard – both the explicit and the implicit (subtext) meaning. This helps the speaker feel heard and, once they feel heard, they let down their assertiveness, barriers and aggressiveness and can more easily join in the flow of inquiry and co-creativity. This is a core practice of Active Listening.
  2. Reflection also may refer to the internal diversity of a Citizen Panel or Citizen Reflective Council. In this case, the word is directing our attention to the way the diversity of the group’s membership reflects – embodies, mimics or is similar to – the diversity of the larger population from which those members were drawn. Often people say such a council represents the diversity of the community and thus is representative of the community. The problem with this language is that it carries connotations (from our ‘representative government’ system) of the council members being answerable to particular constituencies. Although such answerability is characteristic of elected offices, it is not true of, say, people selected at random for a Citizens Jury. In such a panel, citizen participants should act solely as themselves, not as a conscious representative of other subgroups (farmers, African-Americans, businessmen, etc.). What they think and say may reflect what others in their group think and say, but they should feel able to change their thinking whenever they want to, without feeling obligated to other members of their demographic category. Without this freedom, dialogue and deliberation have a hard time performing their magic, because the participants don’t change or grow beyond prior opinions and frames of reference. Using the term reflection instead of representation thus provides a much more generative framing for citizen dialogue and deliberation.

Created on the NCDD wiki by members of the dialogue & deliberation community.

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