After Action Reviews

After Action Reviews

An After Action Review is a facilitated discussion about a project or activity that allows the people who were involved to review what happened, track progress, correct unintended effects and capture recommendations for the future. 

  • Time to do: About 2 hours but a flexible approach can be taken
  • Staff: A skilled facilitator and a note-taker
  • Cost: £
  • Equipment: Flipcharts/pens/post-its
  • small groups
  • face-to-face

How to do it

  • Appoint a facilitator, preferably someone not directly involved, so that they can remain objective.
  • Hold the meeting as soon as possible so that memories are fresh and team members are still available.
  • Include all key members of the team.
  • Revisit the objectives in order to establish a common understanding of the activity
    • What did we set out to achieve?
    • What actually happened?
    • Why were there differences?
  • Reflect on the strengths and weaknesses
    • What worked well? Why?
    • What could have been improved? How?
  • Identify specific actions
    • What would you do differently next time?
    • What two or three key lessons would you share with others?
  • Produce short list of key recommendations to inform future projects or activity.

Advantages

  • After Action Reviews can be held almost anywhere and do not require a lot of advance preparation.
  • A flexible approach can be taken, so the meeting can be formal or informal, longer or shorter, depending on the complexity of the activity being reviewed.
  • They help build trust among members of the team.
  • They help to overcome a “blame culture” and a fear of making mistakes.
  • After Action Reviews do not have to wait until the end of a piece of work; they can be most useful when they are carried out after key stages throughout a project so that the lessons can be applied immediately.

Challenges

  • Skilled facilitation is required to ensure that all team members take part and contribute to the discussion.
  • The emphasis should be on the participants committing to specific actions, rather than on writing up a long report which will sit on a shelf and be forgotten.
  • This is not a performance evaluation but a learning event; care should be taken not to focus on a list of complaints, assign blame or critique individuals.

More information

  • After Action Reviews were first developed by the US military.  The USAID website has a detailed manual which includes checklists and planning documents.
  • Collison, C. & Parcell, G. (2004) Learning to Fly: practical knowledge management from leading and learning organizations Oxford: Capstone
Last Updated: 04 June 2020
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