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Leading a Group Debrief
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Debriefing can serve as an opportunity to reflect on an experience and make it meaningful by identifying what we learned about ourselves and others. The technique of debriefing is useful for group members following the completion of an activity or event. As a facilitator, your job is to lead a thought provoking, safe discussion by asking meaningful questions in a pre-planned sequence. A mature group will often lead their own discussion with little prompting from a facilitator. A debrief usually follows this sequence: rules, what, so what, now what.

Rules can help to develop a supportive, caring climate for people to feel safe and free to express themselves. If time permits, rules for the group's interaction should be developed by the group, preferably before the service project ever takes place. Otherwise, a list of the rules should be posted and discussed with a hand-raise agreement by those who will abide by them before the debrief. Suggested rules include:

  • Honor confidentiality
  • Give unconditional respect to self and others
  • Participate as much as possible
  • Speak only for myself, not others
  • Be open and honest with group members
  • Be silent if it feels right
  • Stop the discussion if a rule is being broken and restate the rule

This is the project report describing what happened during the entire project, who was involved, what was accomplished, what needs were met, etc. Techniques for leading this part may include:

  1. Sharing photographs,
  2. A "go around"* where each person says one descriptive word or sentence about the project,
  3. The "memory game"* where one person begins to recount the project but can be interrupted any time by someone saying, "Hold it!" if they thinks of something to add to that part of the story,
  4. A group log/journal is kept where people sign in periodically to record date, time, events and ideas.
Questions to ask may include:
  1. For the sake of refreshing our memories, will someone please describe (the project)?
  2. We're going to go around the circle starting to my left. Would each person say one adjective to describe (the project) we just completed?
  3. What were some things you noticed? Did any of these things surprise you?

So What?
The "what?" questions generally lead quickly into the "so what?" questions. This is where the participants identify what they think or feel about or learned from the experience. If you look back at the original reasons for volunteering and selecting the project, you will be able to ask evaluative questions to see if the volunteer's needs were met by doing the project. Techniques for this section may include:

  1. "The whip" where you ask each person in the group to complete a sentence such as, "I'm glad that I...", or "When we were (doing something) I felt...";2. "Partner dialogue" where you ask participants to discuss a question and have one of the partners summarize their discussion for the group afterwards;
  2. Journalizing can be a single sheet of paper with questions to focus reflections on or blank paper for recording free-flowing thoughts; consider writing poems, drawing pictures or having a community journal;
  3. "Fish bowl" where half the group sits inside a circle and discusses the project surrounded by the other half of the group who observes and summarizes the inside group's discussion; or
  4. Quotations or readings that reflect the purpose of the activity can be read by the facilitator and participants can respond to them (the Leadership Library has several quote and readings books to choose from).
To ask about what was learned may include:
  1. What do you know now that you didn't know before?
  2. What attitudes and feelings do you have about the experience that you didn't have before?
  3. Are you aware of any other changes that occurred in knowledge, skills, attitudes, or feelings as a direct result of this experience? If so, explain.
  4. How did you actually learn what is most important to you?
To ask to evaluate the group may include:
  1. What part of this project was most valuable for you?
  2. How has this group been helpful to you?
  3. How have you contributed to this group?
  4. What are some things that would have made the group experience better for you?

Now What?
The "so what" questions should flow smoothly into the "now what" questions. These questions should take what was learned from the experience and apply that to future projects or interactions. Questions to ask may include:

  1. What do you think you will remember or retain in other ways after the experience?
  2. Can you explain why this might be so?
  3. What will you probably verbally share with or demonstrate to others in the future?
  4. Would you make any personal changes in how you will contribute in the future?
  5. What are some things you appreciate about the members of this group?
  6. What changes would you suggest for future group experiences?
  7. Where does the group go from here?


Lasting Lessons:  A Teacher's Guide to Reflecting on Experience. Knapp, Clifford E. (1998)
Courtesy of St. Norbert College, Leadership Service and Involvement