What? So What? Now What? Model of Reflection

This article will look at the ‘What? So What? Now What?’ reflective practice model. It will examine the history of the model, who developed it and those who expanded on it. The article will also look at the advantages and disadvantages of the model, as well as give examples of some alternatives. 



Terry Borton, an American school teacher, wrote a book in 1970 called Reach, Touch and Teach. In it, he offered a framework for reflective practice based on three simple questions, What?, So what?, and Now what? These questions can be used to reflect on past experiences or events. Borton described the model as a ‘continuous integrated flow’ with no beginning or end, a fluid process where no part of it can exclude another.

Borton’s work was expanded by Driscoll to be used in clinical practice, although it can be applied to a variety of disciplines. Recognizing that nurses work with patients whose individual character will cause them to adjust their care and approach to tasks, he retained the simplicity of the model while developing it for use within clinical settings. Driscoll’s simplified model of reflective practice is one that is easy to recall and apply in multiple situations. 


Rolfe et al. also took Borton’s reflective practice model and further developed it for use in clinical settings as well as in pastoral work. It is also used for reflective writing. The same structure of Borton’s model was used, but each question is expanded to include additional queries to encourage deeper reflection and understanding. This is designed to increase self awareness, analysis and problem-solving skills. 

The ‘What? So What? Now What?’ Model of Reflection

The What? So What? Now What? model of reflective practice is a method of reflecting on our experience without much of the complexity that is present in other models. It asks three key or stem questions:

  1. What happened?
  2. So, what does this mean?
  3. Now, what shall I do/change going forward?

Several academics have contributed to this model of reflection and we will explore some of them below.

Borton (1970)

The origins of the ‘What? So What? Now What?’ model of reflection can be traced back to Borton’s book Reach, Touch & Teach (1970). In it, Borton describes how the process was used in the development of new educational curriculum:


“What?” for Sensing out the differences between response, actual effect, and intended effect;

“So What?” for Transforming that information into immediately relevant patterns of meaning;

“Now What?” for deciding on how to Act on the best alternative and reapply it in other situations.

This What, So What, Now What sequence became the model on which we built a curriculum designed to make students more explicitly aware of how they function as human beings.

Driscoll (1994, 2007)

In 1994, Driscoll used the same terminology in his What? model, however, he was unaware of Borton’s previous work at the time. He addresses this in his book Practicing Clinical Supervision, where he mentions his “fascination” and “embarrassment” upon discovering Borton’s work.

Driscoll’s model was designed to help students gain the most from experiential learning and also for use in the supervision process. It is made up of three distinct phases, with a set of trigger questions in each phase.

  1. WHAT? A description of the event
    • What is the purpose of returning to this situation?
    • What happened?
    • What did I see or do?
    • What was my reaction to it?
    • What did the other people who were involved do?
  2. SO WHAT? An analysis of the event
    • How did I feel at the time?
    • Were the feelings I had any different from other people who were also involved?
    • Are my feelings after the event, any different from those I experienced at the time?
    • Do I feel troubled, if so, in what way?
    • What were the effects of what I did (or did not do)?
    • What positive aspects have emerged from the event?
    • What have I noticed about my behaviour in practice by taking a more measured look at it?
    • What observations on the way I acted have been made by anyone helping me to reflect on my practice?
  3. NOW WHAT? Proposed actions following the event.
    • What are the implications for others and my own practice based on what have described and analysed?
    • What difference does it make if I choose to do nothing?
    • Where can I get more information to face a similar situation again?
    • How can I modify my practice if a similar situation was to happen again?
    • What help do I need to ‘action’ the results of my reflections?
    • Which aspect should be tackled first?
    • How will I notice that I am any different in practice?
    • What is the main learning that I gain from reflecting on my practice in this way?

Driscoll associates each of these phases within the following model of experiential learning (taken from Driscoll’s Practicing Clinical Supervision: A Reflective Approach, 2007):

Rolfe, Jasper & Freshwater (2001)

Like Driscoll, Rolfe et al. built on Borton’s work to produce a structured model of reflection. Similarly, a set of cue questions is used at each stage to prompt the practitioner to consider different areas of their practice and learning. 


Jasper (2013)

Following her work with Rolfe, Jasper went on to develop the ERA cycle, which she published in her book Beginning Reflective Practice (2013).

ERA stands for Experience, Reflect and Action which can be transposed to the questions in the What? model.


Advantages & Disadvantages

In this section, we will explore the pros and cons of using the What? model of reflection.


Perhaps the principal strength of the What? model of reflective practice over other models is its sheer simplicity.


This model reduces the reflective process down to three component parts that are neatly summed up with the headings of; What?, So What? and Now What?

This makes the model accessible to several different groups and can support comprehension and understanding of the reflective practice process. Therefore, it is a useful introduction to self-reflection and provides the foundations for individuals to build upon as they learn about other, more complex models.



The simplicity of this model can also be a weakness because it lacks much of the depth of other models and theories. This can result in reflections being relatively superficial without regard to areas such as ethics and professional codes, as well as inhibiting the deeper thinking that can challenge assumptions and develop new perspectives.

Both Driscoll and Rolfe et al. developed their models for use in a clinical setting and so the terminology used may not be appropriate for use in other environments, such as teaching or early years education.



There are some alternatives to the What? So What? And Now What? model of reflective practice, which will be considered below:

Gibb’s Reflective Cycle

A more structured cycle to reflective practice can be found in Gibbs’ model.


Gibbs developed a six-stage process for reflecting on experiences to gain insights and knowledge. Gibbs also used a cyclical model that framed experiential learning as a continuous process whereby reflection leads to learning that can then be used in future practice and reflected upon again and again.

The steps in Gibbs reflective cycle in relation to the What? model are:

Gibbs ModelWhat? Model
1. DescriptionWhat?
2. FeelingsWhat?
3. EvaluationSo what?
4. AnalysisSo what?
5. ConclusionsWhat now?
6. Action PlanWhat now?
Gibbs vs What? Models of Reflection

Johns’ Model of Reflection

Johns developed a questioning model that, like the work of Driscoll and Rolfe et al. uses cue questions to guide the practitioner through the reflective practice process.

However, Johns’ model prompts the practitioner to examine the experience in more detail, taking into consideration their own values, professional ethics and the uniqueness of the situation.


Johns’ model was also developed for use in a clinical environment, primarily for nursing staff.

Atkins & Murphy’s Framework for Structured Reflection

Similarly, Atkins and Murphy’s framework was developed for use in the nursing profession and has a more comprehensive approach that can lead to a deeper level of learning.


This model helps practitioners to develop self-awareness and challenge their underlying assumptions and prejudices that may influence their work.

An Example of the What? So What? Now What? Model

Below is an example of how this model could be used by a care worker.


Consider the following scenario.


An inexperienced care worker supports a gentleman with a learning disability as part of a small team. On his birthday, the team all sign a card on his behalf, however, the care worker takes it upon themselves to also buy the client a birthday cake and a new game for his Xbox.


The gentleman is obviously delighted but this affects the care worker’s relationship with the rest of the team as they appear to be colder and more distant following the situation. In addition, the team leader arranges a meeting for them to discuss the situation.

The care worker cannot understand what all the fuss is about. They believed they were doing a nice thing and no harm came to anyone as a result of their actions.


So what?

The care worker reflects on the situation and considers how their actions may have been interpreted by others. By doing this, they realise that the cake and gift she gave to the gentleman could be seen as a bribe to improve their relationship. In addition, this could have resulted in the gentleman seeing the other care workers in a negative light because they did not give him a present.

The care worker also thinks that there is something in their employer’s policy related to gifts and when they check, they discover that this is something that is not allowed. Further research reveals that providing gifts to clients is against their professional code of conduct.


Now what?

The care worker now feels disappointed and embarrassed about their conduct and wishes to resolve it. They plan to discuss their mistake with their team leader and apologise to the rest of the team. In addition, they will ensure that they do not do anything similar in the future and set aside to fully read through their employer’s policies and procedures and professional codes of practice to reduce the likelihood of future mistakes.


  • Borton: Reach, Touch and Teach
  • Driscoll: Reflective practice for practise (1994)
  • Driscoll: Practicing Clinical Supervision (2007)
  • Jasper: Beginning Reflective Practice (2013)
  • Rolfe et al: Critical reflection in nursing & the helping professions (2001)
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