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Transformative learning in reflective practice

by Becky Lattof on

EP9_Participate Podcast_Blog

From the moment you start a conversation with Emma Hardley, you immediately sense her enthusiasm for connecting others and creating a world in which women and their children are thriving, respected and free from violence. 

As a Prevention of Violence Against Women Specialist at Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (DVRCV), Hardley works cross-functionally to build respectful relationships, create education opportunities and coordinate the Partners in Prevention (PiP) program.

In this episode of the Participate podcast, host Mike Washburn and Dr. Julie Keane talk with Hardley about the research and reflection that helped develop a powerful Community of Practice (CoP) for DVRCV in Victoria, Australia.

A reimagined approach to connecting prevention practitioners

For more than 30 years, DVRCV has built the capacity of those who prevent and respond to violence against women in Victoria. One of the ways they do this is through a vibrant CoP for primary prevention practitioners in the PiP program to learn with and from one another.

Many of these practitioners work in various schools, workplaces and communities across the state to deliver respectful relationships education and primary prevention activity. But being physically separated across these areas and sectors didn’t provide a natural opportunity for practitioners to share best practices and discover new ideas together. That’s where DVRCV saw the need for CoPs.

At the time, Hardley had recently completed an advanced diploma of group facilitation that influenced her broad vision of what a CoP could look and feel like for the PiP program. She recognized that CoPs may consist of people with similar goals but who are not necessarily like-minded but each bring diverse perspectives to the community, an important element of a robust CoP. A key part of the PiP project is delivering capacity building activities, information sharing opportunities and networking for practitioners, so Hardley set out to create a CoP structure that met the needs of the program, followed DVRCV’s model for capacity building and helped deepen the practice of practitioners.

DVRCV evidence-based model

Caution: Reflection causes learning

The CoPs developed for the PiP program focus on three main areas: personal growth, systemic change and skills development. Hardley says these elements are intimately connected and exist in support of each other.

She also shares the quote, “Caution: Reflection causes learning," to speak to the impact of reflective practices and how they tie back to the community’s impact on personal growth, systemic change and skills development. Reflection can help us do our work better and achieve our goals but may catalyze a painful process as people shift worldview and frame of reference.

Visualization of DVRCV’s idea of transformative learning in reflective practice model

DVRCV’s first round of CoPs piloted in 2017 then ran again in 2018, 2019 and 2020. These CoPs consisted of in-person groups with up to 20 participants and online groups with up to 12 participants meeting once a month, over six months.

As a result of the CoPs so far, members are more energized, feel deeply supported and have found a safe space to share the challenges they face within their own organizations and regarding the broader societal resistance to the work they're doing.

Hardley recalls an example of a practitioner who moved from the city to an under-resourced area, asked the community what was needed and formed a partnership with the local library to do a gender audit of the books, particularly in the childrens' section. The practitioner shared ideas with the CoP and was able to create a greater awareness of gender equality and acceptance of fluidity in gender identity in their local community, which Hardley says was eye-opening for the library and the community.

Visualization exercises and building trust

To fully connect with others, Hardley shares that we must fully connect with ourselves and recognize all we’ve done to get to a particular moment. Visualization is an important confidence-building technique Hardley incorporates to achieve this with CoPs. In the podcast episode, Hardley leads listeners through a visualization exercise, challenging listeners to release tension and recall a moment in their professional lives when they felt successful and powerful in their work.

The purpose of recalling the details and the feeling of the moment empowers participants to effectively pull that vivid memory out whenever needing focus, calmness and strength. With empathy for participants, Emma brings attention to using their senses to visualize an important memory to step into what she considers the wisest version of oneself to have the most meaningful conversations and get to the heart of the challenges people are facing. So much of the individual person comes to the space, she says, and so they need to come to a place of trust and collective wisdom.

Looking ahead

Though 2020 and COVID-19 brought many challenges for human connection, DVRCV has leveraged CoPs to strengthen relationships and virtually connect practitioners. The silver lining, Hardley notes, is that more people have been able to access the centre’s offerings, as they were less encumbered by the logistics of travel and expense. She excitedly shares that not only did enrollment increase significantly, but groups became much more diverse and had a larger impact as well.

To read more about DVRCV’s CoPs and impact, access their research study, Learning together: Strengthening approaches to primary prevention through Communities of Practice

Ready to start building a Community of Practice to deepen connection and scale the impact of your organization’s programs?

Learn more about Communities of Practice

Becky Lattof

Becky Lattof