Why is it relevant to conduct processes of strategic reflection?

Every organization reaches a point where it must pause and conduct a process of strategic reflection. The reasons may vary, and the timing may depend on each case. This dynamic might take place a few times over the years or in the same year. 

Civil society organizations face constraints on two essential resources: time and money. In addition, the world and contexts are more complex every day. Therefore, we face the following question:

How do civil society organizations make an impact?

With strategic reflection! In other words, by defining priorities and making clear where our experience, talent, and capabilities are valuable and more functional. However, this is easier said than done. We must pose complex questions that take time to answer. For example:

  • What social changes would we like to achieve with our work?;
  • What capacities does our organization have to accomplish this change?;
  • Are there other stakeholders with more experience, capacity, or ability to do the work?;
  • How many resources do we need to achieve the changes that we propose?;
  • Are there opportunities to accomplish this change?;
  • When do we want to accomplish these changes? Is the deadline realistic?

Laying the foundations for strategic reflection

If we can reply to these questions, we are being strategic, and it is easier for us to achieve our goals. These questions are our starting point to add value to our strategic reflection. At the beginning of this process, we do not need to know all the responses, but it is essential that, in the end, we can answer most of them. We must remember that strategic reflection processes take time and require effort, creativity, and the capacity to reflect on our successes and mistakes. Therefore, it is crucial to be patient and complete all steps if we want the best possible outcome.

Now, what do we really need to conduct a good strategic reflection?

1. Be aware of what works for or against our work

The first step in our strategic reflection is to be fully aware of the context in which we develop our work. It is necessary to analyze and know as much as possible about the ecosystem where we are working. Some of the questions that could be helpful in this first stage are the following:

  • Who are the stakeholders working on this topic?;
  • What are their positions?;
  • How do they affect the work we do as an organization? Are they aligned with our objectives or not?;
  • What are the opportunities to successfully influence policymakers and agents of change?;
  • What are the real challenges we face?

2. Learning about ourselves 

Once we identify the context where we act, strategic reflection should focus inward. Below, you can find useful questions to guide this reflection:

  • What are our previous achievements? What do they tell us if we consider more ambitious goals?;
  • Where do we stand out as an organization? What do we bring to the table that organizations in the same field do not? What is our added value?;
  • What capacities and resources do we have?;
  • What capacities or resources do we lack?

3. Setting of strategic goals

Until this stage, strategic reflection has focused on analyzing external and internal factors that influence our work as an organization. From step three, we must think about what we want to achieve in the middle term, and therefore, we must design strategic goals. 

These strategic goals need to be ambitious and realistic. In addition, they should allow us to take advantage of the opportunities and make use of the capacities and resources that we already have. This is the most complicated step but also the most relevant: if we set our strategic goals correctly, we would have made half the way.  


  • Strategic goals would add clarity about the change we want to achieve;
  • We could identify our priorities and where we want to add value;We will draw up a roadmap that will allow us to take advantage of the opportunities and face the challenges we face using our resources efficiently and based on our experience;
  • It will be easier to assign roles and responsibilities within our organization to meet our goals;
  • It will allow us to identify funding sources;
  • We can better design our monitoring and evaluation tools;
  • If we do this process collectively, we will build a sense of belonging and inclusion among those participating in the strategic reflection.

4. Designing the roadmap 

Strategic thinking requires an action plan to be truly effective. Therefore, once we have designed our strategic objectives, it is time to draw the roadmap. It will be essential to define clearly and precisely the following:

  • What do the changes outlined in our objectives look like?;
  • What strategies will we use to achieve each of these outcomes?;
  • What key activities do we need to undertake for each goal?;
  • Who will be responsible for each task? How long will it take us to do the tasks we have set ourselves? 

Answering these questions will enable us to work more precisely. If, at some point, we find an obstacle, it will also be easier to identify it and sort it out.

5. Don’t be afraid of success!

The strategic reflection is a navigation chart that helps us to have clarity of the following:

  • What we want to achieve with our work (what we want to do);
  • The strategies we must follow to accomplish this (how we will do it).

So, it is a flexible tool that should guide our work, but it is not a straitjacket. This process should provide tools to face changes better regardless of the context and circumstances. 

If we did the process correctly, we would never lose focus. We will only be better prepared to move forward when the weather is good and to find alternative ways out of storms.

When is the moment to conduct this reflection? Today! 

We are often afraid to jump in and think it is not the right time. The reality is that we will never achieve our goals if we wait for the ideal moment. 

That does not exist; the best we can do is trust our experience and solve problems as they arise. The most essential thing in the whole process is just that:

  • Do it without any fear of making mistakes;
  • Trust our navigation chart;
  • Adjust what is necessary.

6. Continuous evaluation 

Once we implement the plan or have concluded it, it is essential to reflect on the outcomes. Here, the key is not to seek perfection but to learn to improve. Some questions that can help us are the following:

  • What worked and what did not?; 
  • Why?; 
  • What did we know?; 
  • Did any outcomes surprise us? Did something happen that we didn’t foresee, or did we achieve something we didn’t plan?;
  • What can we change to make things better in the future?

From these questions, we can improve the strategy: maybe the path we thought was ideal turned out not to be suitable. Perhaps what we thought would happen when we had the reflection did not occur, but new opportunities arose that allowed us to advance more than we had anticipated. 

Or, perhaps extraordinary circumstances occurred (a pandemic, for example!) that forced us to rethink our strategies completely.

Time and patience: the key to success 

The key to a successful strategic thinking process will be our ability to adapt. These processes take time, so we must take it easy and be creative to adjust and respond to the challenges ahead. 

There is not a single answer but many possibilities, so let us not be afraid to adjust the strategy if necessary. Finally, let us remember that two heads think better than one. Let us try to make these reflections collectively and involve the whole organization. Who is better positioned than us to know the challenges and opportunities we face and take advantage of our experience and capabilities?

Rethinking the different parts of our process not only helps us work with clearer goals, it also provides an opportunity to reimagine how to accomplish the social change we want and to reshape the impact we want to make.