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​​Feedback that inspires

March 13, 2023

Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process empowers those providing critiques and creators alike, in classrooms, artists’ groups, workplaces and beyond

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

The curtain opens on a world premiere. Like magic the show materializes. How many sets of eyes contributed to making it happen? And how did it all come together?

Key questions like this and the answers have always intrigued visionary artist Liz Lerman, a nationally lauded choreographer and recipient of many awards, including the 2011 United States Artists Ford Fellowship in Dance. 

Why would anyone want to keep the process of making art a secret, she wondered. Any veteran artist would be quick to admit that a fully formed concept appearing onstage without feedback and revisions is unlikely. 

It never happens that way. Ever. 

The process of making art involves feedback. Many years ago, Lerman, a professor in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and a MacArthur “genius” grant fellow, was determined to figure out what kind of feedback situation would leave an artist hungry to get back into the studio to improve their art. And that is how the Critical Response Process was born. It’s been used extensively as a formal process for more than a decade — and was in development and refinement in real-world situations even before then, starting back in 1990.

Not only is CRP being used for providing feedback on artistic creations, but also for engineering concepts, inventions, workplace performance and more. 

Collage of two photos of professor speaking with students

How it works

The steps of the process are straightforward, but provide profound results in the way they create an environment where everyone learns and improves their communication skills.

CRP is an elastic process. It can be a formal experience in a designated time and place with a performance or presentation, or it can be scaled down for a work or home situation. You can share something as large as an opera or something as small as a recipe. Flexibility is built into the steps. 

Learning the process can happen in a few minutes, but practicing it can be a lifelong  process. Some facilitators and practitioners have made it central to their understanding of how judgment can be engaged and suspended — whether in their personal or professional lives — and see honing communication skills as a continuous journey. 

You can take a workshop, or read Lerman’s new book to see how it unfolds in various settings. You can also read through these steps and try it right now. 

Most often, the process begins with a showing of a work in progress that can be an art piece, a grant application, brochure content or even a very early idea.

Generally, participants sit in a circle. There are three roles: artist/maker, facilitator and responders. You can use the process with a room full of responders or just one.

Step 1: Statements of Meaning

After listening to the performance or idea, or after reading or viewing the artwork, responders state what was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting or striking in the work or idea.

Statements can be very specific, for example, “When you were leaping across the downstage diagonal I really felt your forward momentum.” Or they can be more general, “I really appreciated all the research you put into your subject.” 

Lerman describes the feeling in the room after step 1 as “amazing.” The initial statement uplifts the artist/maker and everyone else. It also provides useful information often not experienced inside most systems of feedback.

It is understood that observers may see problems in the work, and this is important, but they hold those comments for later.  

Step 2: Artist as Questioner

The artist/maker asks questions about the work or the idea. In answering, responders stay on topic and express opinions in direct response to the artist’s questions. 

This can be applied to any situation where an artist/creator desires feedback to motivate them to get back to work with ideas of how to improve it. This step places the process in the hands of the artist/maker. They decide what gets discussed first and allows them to address what is most worrisome. 

Lerman notes how important this creator-driven step is because it gives the responders insights into where the artist/creator is coming from and provides context for critiquing the work.

Step 3: Neutral Questions

Responders ask neutral questions about the work, and the artist responds. Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion couched in them. For example, a question like, “Why was the music so faint?” embeds the opinion that you felt like you could not hear it. If you reframe the question to, “Can you talk about the process of selecting the music and the music’s volume?” you will learn more about the artist’s intention in using that particular selection. It keeps responders curious for a longer amount of time and might even affect their opinion.

Step 4: Opinion Time

Responders state opinions if and only if they are given permission from the artist or receiver; the artist/receiver has the option to say no. For example, the responders can say, “I have an opinion on your choice of the composer, would you like to hear it?” 

At the heart of CRP is the agency of the artist/maker. They decide how the process unfolds in a way that will be most useful to them in honing their work. 

Women sitting in circle with one woman holding a piece of cake

Using cake as the “artwork” provides a low-stakes way to learn how to ask for and provide feedback as part of the Critical Response Process.

In the workplace 

Phil Stoesz, design expert and facilitator for the University Design Institute, an ASU unit that strives to transform traditional educational models, helps train people to use Lerman’s CRP in work environments.

“The process is dynamic, and is so easily adapted to work environments,” Stoesz says. “Too often feedback is owned by the bosses. In CRP, we give the power to employees too.” 

In addition to facilitating CRP workshops for artists and teachers, Stoesz, a CRP-certified facilitator, co-founded ReCreate, which brings the method to the workplace. Recently, Stoesz was part of a team that introduced CRP to a security team at Google. 

According to Stoesz, step 1 is natural as it’s common for bosses to cheer on their employees. 

Steps 2 and 3 provide valuable insights. “Employees bringing questions to their supervisors reveals their curiosity about their work,” he says. Step 3 allows the supervisor to learn more before delivering an opinion, he adds. 

During trainings, Stoesz often brings in cookies as the “artwork” to learn the steps in a low-stakes situation, a practice Lerman and colleagues introduced into the process years ago.  

He sees CRP as the future of workplace feedback, adding, “the process gives agency to workers and builds a better work culture.”

In academics

Shawn S. Jordan, an associate professor at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has seen how useful CRP can be in classrooms.

“I had already heard about Lerman’s work from a colleague, but was delighted to learn that she was working at my own institution,” he says. “I was immediately engaged and inspired by CRP’s mindset.”

When a CRP class was offered to the participants of a leadership group, Jordan signed up. The class included a broad range of the ASU community. 

“The mix really showed me the breadth at which this work could be applied,” recalls Jordan. “Engineers design solutions and products that need feedback. But the usual way is to pick a design concept apart, which is not consent-based and affects confidence.”

Jordan found that CRP works well for giving feedback on engineering solutions. 

“With CRP, the control is in the hands of the designer,” he says. “It’s a positive experience, and they are more likely to stay in engineering.”

Jordan is one of many faculty members across disciplines who use the process to provide more meaningful feedback to learners — and to help teach students how to provide insightful feedback.

Man sitting behind desk with robotics project in front of him

“With CRP, the control is in the hands of the designer. It’s a positive experience, and they are more likely to stay in engineering,” says Shawn S. Jordan, an associate professor at the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Critical Response Process resources

This past July, Wesleyan University Press published “Critique Is Creative: The Critical Response Process in Theory and Action,” written by Lerman in collaboration with her longtime colleague John Borstel. The book includes stories about the process in action from the past 30 years. It’s an excellent resource for getting comfortable using the process in your own life.

“We worked really hard figuring out the structure of the book,” Lerman says. “It’s simple, straightforward and not fancy.”

Lerman’s dream for the book is that more people will find out about the process. “I hope they will be excited about the variations they see,” she says. “Live with it, try it and read these stories.”

Another way to become more adept with the process is to take a workshop with Lerman or a CRP-certified practitioner. Lerman coaches everyone along and sometimes halts the process to return to a previous step to go deeper, points out Sumana Sen Mandala, a CRP-certified practitioner, or to explain the step’s purpose better.

“I was struck and continue to take inspiration from this ‘time out’ idea in CRP,” Mandala says. “There is such wisdom in the reflections Lerman does on the spot on the way the group is using the process.”

Another idea is to consider working with teachers who use CRP in their arts programs or classrooms. However you go about working with CRP, Lerman encourages you to begin trying it and practicing it. 

Apply the Critical Response Process

Go to to watch videos demonstrating the process, see upcoming training opportunities and more.

Story by Nancy Wozny, editor in chief of Arts and Culture Texas and frequent contributor to Pointe, DanceTeacher and Dance Magazine, and winner of the Gary Parks Award from the Dance Critics Association. 

Top photo: Robotics lead Kenneth Hodson, student Charles Jeffries, Liz Lerman and Shawn Jordan practicing the Critical Response Process for feedback on an engineering project. Photos by Courtney Lively, a Scholar All-Region Athlete on ASU’s soccer team, who graduated in ’07 with a BIS in interdisciplinary studies. As an event and brand photographer, Lively’s clients include Deloitte, Google and others.

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Innovating with purpose

March 13, 2023

Principled Innovation helps ensure we are not just innovating for the sake of change but to fulfill our values

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the spring 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. Written by Cristy Guleserian, the director of Principled Innovation at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College where she works collaboratively with faculty, staff, students and community partners to integrate MLFTC’s core value of Principled Innovation into culture, curriculum and practice.

When using Principled Innovation, ASU’s newest design aspiration, we start with a basic question about any prospective change or course of action: We can, but should we?

Principled Innovation is a practice that offers reflective approach to change that centers the well-being of humanity, communities and society as a whole. It is a framework for ethical decision-making that can be embraced by individuals, organizations and systems. It informs simple, everyday decisions and complex actions at all levels. 

At the heart of Principled Innovation are four dimensions of character: moral, civic, intellectual and performance. When individuals practice Principled Innovation, their actions exhibit the empathy, honesty and humility inherent in moral character; the desire to serve others that is part of civic character; the truth-seeking impulse of intellectual character; and the problem-solving commitment of performance character.

Systems change can be messy. Principled Innovation offers practical techniques for perspective-taking and thinking through the possible consequences of even the most intricate systemic actions. It creates a kind of intellectual and ethical muscle memory that helps individuals, teams and institutions seek out and listen to input from multiple perspectives. 

It helps us ask ourselves the tough questions and consider the intended and unintended consequences of our decisions and actions, and whether they fulfill our charter commitments to equity, inclusiveness and taking responsibility for the well-being and success of the communities we serve.

Developing a character framework 

The impetus to develop a character-based framework for decision-making originated in the need, articulated by Dean Carole Basile, for Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to respond to a variety of challenges facing colleges of education and, more broadly, education systems. Even as our college’s enrollment was rising, we saw the shortage of educators in Arizona and the United States getting more acute. 

Too many schools in too many communities were not meeting the needs of all their learners. We were graduating people into a profession and a system that was enduring a long-term crisis.

And, because innovating in education involves making the kinds of decisions that will affect the lives and learning of students, educators, families and communities, it was imperative for us to forge a way of making decisions worthy of the trust and confidence of the people affected by them. 

Values and ethics always drive individual and organizational decision-making. But those values are not always transparent. We wanted to create a clear, intentional process for how character could inform decision-making in education, including our own decisions. 

So we started a conversation about character at our college. Not surprisingly, challenging questions and important arguments were quick to emerge. Whose morals? Whose virtues? Whose character? 

We spent the first two years in a collaborative and iterative cycle of listening, writing and revising. And then we did it again. And again. 

We started with a framework from the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham. We heard loud and clear that context matters, and we needed to “ASU-ize” this work. In other words, we needed to tie our notions of character — what it is and why it matters — to ASU’s defining characteristic of innovation. 

Our faculty, staff and students shared a view of character not as virtues they perceived to be dogmatic but as assets required to achieve purpose. They moved from a notion of character education as prescriptions learners passively receive to a process learners actively pursue through practice and action.

As we adapted the process to fit the needs of our stakeholders and everyone involved, we began to create and codify a process. 

Practical outcomes 

Principled Innovation drove the process of redesigning one of the core activities of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College: our teacher-preparation programs. We had an initial starting state of a program that was successful with professional experiences celebrated nationally and locally. Despite this, it was not fulfilling the college’s larger mission as well as it could. Graduates reported areas in which they felt underprepared. 

We also faced the question: How could we improve at preparing teachers who stayed in and flourished in the profession? 

Conscious application of Principled Innovation practices led to a comprehensive, widely participatory review of teacher-preparation programs. Stakeholders reviewed curricula, teaching methods, professional experiences (e.g., internships and residencies), organizational structure and operational processes — all with a focus on positive change that would improve the learning outcomes and experiences for both ASU students and the preschool–12th grade learners they serve.

A process for meaningful, complex innovation 

The work of formally codifying and evolving Principled Innovation has been intentional, messy, exciting, challenging, purposeful, exhausting, exhilarating, frustrating, uncertain and, most of all, rewarding. 

It helped us to identify and acknowledge the fundamental values of our college and the communities we serve. 

Principled Innovation gave us opportunities to practice moral and ethical decision-making in a very intentional way as we grappled with difficult dilemmas. 

Where we have landed is very different from our starting point. 

At Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Principled Innovation is now our core value, and ASU has adopted Principled Innovation as the ninth design aspiration, through which character development can occur.

This is not the end — Principled Innovation remains a living process. We will continue to learn and grow throughout all of ASU and beyond. 

Students interacting with VR headsets

Learning Futures studios is one of ASU’s extended reality studios teaching all aspects of VR using Principled Innovation. “Principled Innovation helps us operate ethically and make daily decisions that inform our code, design and even the way we meet and communicate,” Executive Director Dan Munnerley says. 

How can Principled Innovation apply in my life and my work?

Try working with these questions the next time you are looking at change you would like to make or pursuing an innovation project.

Moral questions 

• How are my values reflected in my decisions?

• How am I being empathetic toward myself and others?

Intellectual questions 

• What evidence do I have to support my perspective?

• What might we be missing?

Performance questions 

• How do I support and build on team members’ ideas?

• How will we know if the innovation is effective?

Civic questions 

• What are the strengths of the community in which we are operating?

• How have we received feedback from the community about the project?

Get familiar with Principled Innovation

• Learn more at

• Explore additional resources at

• See the nine design aspirations at