CROSS Topic Paper
Reflective thinking is a constant drive to ask questions and to make appropriate responses to them. It is characterised by a healthy scepticism about all inputs to processes, about the processes themselves and about the outcomes from processes.
It is a pervasive activity in all risk reduction strategies such as: using the design process, using predictive models, using codes of practice, adopting an ethical approach.
Some engineers adopt a reflective approach naturally. They may look at a drawing, for example, and quickly identify faults in a design. It need not, however, be a tacit skill. It can be and needs to be fostered.
Note: this Topic Paper was published by SCOSS (Standing Committee on Structural Safety). Since March 2021, SCOSS is integrated under the name Collaborative Reporting for Safer Structures (CROSS).
Who should read this?
Civil and structural and civil engineers in practice, teachers and students in universities and other further education organisations concerned with structural analysis and design.
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I was very pleased to see your paper on reflective thinking as it is such an important thing. I have found a few methods of achieving reflective thinking on structures. The first is to draw schemes by hand and try and trace over existing drawings and proposed schemes (or the very least draw them yourself in CAD). It is a very important method to make sure you (not someone else) have understood the context, the existing and proposed. It works as the slower speed of tracing and the hand eye coordination helps understanding of what the questions are, but also with the understanding of suitable structural proposals. It allows many creative and relevant schemes to emerge as the 3D nature of forces and design is also clarified in this way. The second is an important piece of advice I was taught by more than one very experienced senior engineer at well know and creative engineering companies who tend to work on difficult structures. It is: " we need to sleep on that! " It was meant very literally and I often use this motto and go to bed! It really works as the mind reflects whilst the body is asleep. I think an addendum to your note would be useful as it is not complicated but sound advice. Of course proper reviews are important!