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Use a reflexive monitor to keep your project on-track

Our hearts go out to all those who’ve been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s brought dramatic and unprecedented change to the way we operate. While physical distancing has sadly become part of our day-to-day lives, as enablers of change many of us have quickly pivoted and found new ways to engage with our clients.

While this is encouraging, it can also be when unforeseen events change the trajectory of our projects, which then miss the mark. It’s times like these that we need a special role in our teams… the reflexive monitor.

Have you been involved with a project that started well, but went off-track and didn’t achieve the desired outcomes? In this episode, we’re exploring the role of a reflexive monitor. Maybe it’s not one that is on your usual list of roles you need for a project that is focused on enabling change, but one that could be useful!

We came across this idea when we became involved in the Primary Innovation project in New Zealand a few years ago. We’ve talked about this project before in the episode on co-innovation. In that episode we talked about what co-innovation is and how to apply it as an enabler of change.

One of the roles we identified as important was a reflexive monitor and we thought it was worth spending a bit more time on this role. Denise has actually been a reflexive monitor… so she’s going to tell us a bit about her experience!

Denise says that a reflexive monitor is an independent individual or organisation that is focused on helping all stakeholders involved in a co-innovation project to actively participate. A reflexive monitor observes group processes and suggests appropriate changes to facilitate effective interaction and learning. 

A reflexive monitor keeps everyone focused on the ambition for change; the reason why the project is underway. They keep the project focused on the vision. It’s like the annoying person who is always saying “will this move us towards our why or away from our why?”. But in the middle of projects it’s really easy to get side-tracked and go down rabbit holes that appear interesting but are not very useful when measured against the vision for the project!

So everything that a reflexive monitor does helps support learning in the team and for the project to help make sure the project succeeds.”

It sounds like a challenging role! But what do reflexive monitors do during a project?

A reflexive monitor will always be going through the process of observation – analysis – reflection – adaptation, preferably with the team. They’ll be:

  • asking questions
  • helping align actions now with the long term thinking, and
  • contributing to other monitoring and evaluation.


There are a whole heap of tools available. Barbara van Mierlo and her colleagues in the Netherlands wrote a whole book on this, outlining some tools they thought were useful for reflexive monitoring. Denise thinks that a good reflexive monitor will actually be someone who is trained in facilitation because that is essentially the way a reflexive monitor should be acting and the type of tools that are in the toolbox for reflexive monitoring.

A reflexive monitor is usually only a part-time role in a project, approximately 20% of a full-time role. It can be tempting to also help with other parts of the project but it’s actually best to just focus on the reflexive monitor role.

A few people who were reflexive monitors in the Primary Innovation project wrote about our experiences and that is also available online – we’ll provide the link in the blog notes.

So there you have it – reflexive monitoring – it’s a role that isn’t always part of your usual project team, but if you are thinking about co-innovation and using this approach, then it’s worth reading up on this and giving it a go.

So you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below this blog post and tell us your experiences with reflexive monitoring, including any tips and further ideas about it. We don’t want this to just be a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts with us! 


  1. Primary Innovation project:
  2. Using an innovation systems approach to achieve remarkable change, YouTube video with Laurens Klerkx 
  3. Reflexive Monitoring in Action, a guide for monitoring system innovation projects.
  4. Reflexive monitoring in New Zealand
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Graham Harris
Graham Harris
4 years ago

Thanks Denise and John – much food for thought here. I can certainly see the value of the role of the reflexive monitor in projects. Can’t say that I have actually seen this formerly in operation in projects I have been involved in – but can think of examples where people have taken on this role from time to time. A more formal use of this role would be invaluable in large, complex projects.

Roy Murray-Prior
4 years ago

Excellent. A very important role, but unless the researchers involved are interested in collaboration it is difficult to get them to accept such a role. An additional problem, perhaps even greater, is to get some funding organisations to fund this role. Difficult enough to get them to fund innovation systems research of the type you are talking about (including extension). Of course if they accept innovation systems research they will probably fund a reflexive monitor position. I suspect we need to call it something else with some funders, e.g. M & E person, so they wouldn’t just be a RM.… Read more »

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
4 years ago

Hi Roy! It really makes sense to combine it with M&E. As John says though it needs to be the right person and you need to be explicit about which role/hat you have on.

tafadzwa manjala
tafadzwa manjala
4 years ago

Insightful role, hope those in project management and funding take note and include this as part of the why to justify role importance. Can the RM Also be someone in the project team with the right skill wearing a different hat for defined sessions …to ease project teams change in behavior

Denise Bewsell
Denise Bewsell
4 years ago

As John says – yes – as long as they make this role explicit for those sessions Tafi!

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