Professsional Identity Portraits

DESIGNING LEARNING CIRCLES: Return to Opening the Circles

This project was used in a face to face workshop to open a learning circle for evaluation researchers. Part of the learning circle process is an intentional effort to help the group create the ties that will make collective work possible. An effective strategy either during face-to-face sessions or online is to engage in telling personal stories as a form of self-disclosure. Friends are people who among other things, carry one another’s stories. Entrusting others with one’s personal stories helps to move circle participants away from the category of strangers and closer to that of trusted friends. Opening activities can be more effective if they are tied to the purposes that bring the participants together in learning circles.

Sharing Professional Identity Portraits

Margaret Riel and Linda Purrington

In evaluation research it is important to develop a clear understanding of the theory of action which uncovers the goals of the stakeholders. In a recent article Friedman, Rothman and Withers (article attached below) suggest the the use of the question "why are the goals of a project important to you?" as a strategy to surface issues of identity that shape goal statements. In this exercise, we are asking you to define yourself in terms of your professional identities. And then to engage in a discussion about why you identify yourself with evaluators. This activity involves finding a way for people to introduce themselves that goes beyond the formula of name, place of work and general interest. When you suggest another way of doing introductions it helps to give the person some reflective time (sense of identity, self-awareness, other awareness, and knowledge of the group).

Each of us belongs to/associates with a number of different groups. These groups reflect our ethnicity, occupational and vocational cultures, and social groups that shape or reflect our values. Membership in groups is determined by how you identify with the group members, the work you do, and also how you are seen by other group members. Think about your identity as an evaluator. What shapes this identity? Think about personal forces, interactions, planned and unplanned history, the work you have done and how you are seen by others. On the paper you have been given, find a way to represent the different individual, groups, projects or ties that you believe have contributed to your professional identity. If you can, show the relative importance and influence of each group by the size and placement of the pictures/graphics that you draw. You can use the materials in any way that helps you illustrate these ties.

Professional Identity Portraits is a drawing and story-telling activity that engages individuals in:

    • Reflection on one’s identity and how it intersects with one’s personal past, and the different groups or ties that one has developed, the work that has been done and the ties that are in place.

    • Representations of professional identity in picture, graphic, and text formats

    • Sharing their professional identity story with others

This activity is a creative way for participants to explore individual and group identity. The overarching goal is to use self-disclosure to develop trust and to build a sense of connectedness with members in the Learning Circle.

Time Needed:

60-90 minutes

Materials Needed:

    • Colored markers/pens and post-it notes of different sizes and colors

    • One piece of chart paper for each person

    • Space and material to display the gallery of portraits for sharing


    1. Encourage each person to create a portrait that reflects the complexity of his or her professional identity.

    2. Have each person display their drawing on the wall .

    3. Let members mill around the room examining and discussing the drawings (gallery walk).

    4. Have each person explain their drawing to the entire group.

Group Reflections

    • How did it feel to draw a diagram of your professional identity?

    • How well did you represent yourself?

    • What have you learned about your colleagues?

    • What did you learn about group membership and professional identity?

    • What ideas do you have for Circle opening activities?

Professional Identity Portraits was developed with the benefit of reading Cultural Portrait Activity in Lindsey, R.B., Robins, K.N., & Terrell, R.D. (2003) Cultural proficiency. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

DESIGNING LEARNING CIRCLES: Return to Opening the Circles