When practitioners are unaware of their frames for roles or problems, they do not experience the need to choose among them. They do not attend to the ways in which they construct the reality in which they function; for them, it is simply the given reality. Thus, for example, a planner may take for granted that the housing problem is one of preserving and increasing the stock of decent housing; what else could it be? A development economist may assume without question that the problem in a developing country is that of increasing the rate of industrialization, the growth of gross national product, and the pool of foreign currency available for exchange.
When a practitioner becomes aware of his frames, he also becomes aware of the possibility of alternative ways of framing the reality of his practice. He takes note of the values and norms to which he has given priority, and those he has given less importance, or left out of account altogether. Frame awareness tends to entrain awareness of dilemmas.
When a professional community embodies multiple and conflicting ideas in good currency about the frames appropriate to the construction of problems and roles, then practitioners, educators, and students of the profession confront such dilemmas. One cannot be a member of the community without taking account of them. In the field of psychotherapy, as I have noted earlier, practitioners have to deal with a bewildering variety of “schools.” Leston Havens has proposed that these can be grouped into the broad categories of objective-descriptive, interpersonal, psychoanalytic and existential psychiatry. Architects face a similar predicament. They may choose, for example, to be “historicists,” focussing on the development of variations on historical precedents. They may identify with the “modern movement,” which has sought to free itself from historical precedent but has now become something of a tradition in its own right. They may concentrate on building as a craft which utilizes and gives prominence to the unique properties of materials. They may see building as an industrial process which calls for new technologies and for building-systems. Or they may give primary importance to the idea of architecture as a social process in which the users of buildings should participate in design.
Social workers may approach their tasks as clinical caseworkers, monitors and controllers of social behavior, deliverers of social services, advocates of the rights of their clients, or as community organizers. Indeed, in the heady days of the 1960s, some social workers moved sequentially through all of these ways of framing practice roles. Planners, as I have mentioned, construct variations on the roles of policy analysis, design, advocacy, regulation, management, or mediation. In a science-based profession like medicine, a practitioner may see himself as a clinician devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of the diseases of individual patients, as a practitioner of preventive medicine concerned with the larger life situations of whole communities, or as an advocate for the rights and needs of groups of people deprived of decent medical care.
Frame analysis may help practitioners to become aware of their tacit frames and thereby lead them to experience the dilemmas inherent in professional pluralism. Once practitioners notice that they actively construct the reality of their practice and become aware of the variety of frames available to them, they begin to see the need to reflect-in-action on their previously tacit frames …
Traditionally, the discussion of alternative frames, values, and approaches to practice tends to appear in professional communities in the mode of debate among representatives of the contending schools of thought. There is a great deal of polemical writing, in this vein, in the literatures of such fields as architecture, psychiatry, planning, social work, and divinity. There is also a literature of debate in such fields as law, engineering, and medicine between practitioners of the establishment and their radical critics. In this sort of writing, the style of communication is primarily ideological. The protagonists of the various points of view do not reflect on their frames but act from them, seeking to defend their own positions and attack the positions of their opponents. The readers of these literatures may be helped to become aware of alternative points of view, but they are not much helped to reflect on the different frames that underlie them.
(Schön, 1995, p. 310ff)