A key to successful Action Learning implementation is choosing an appropriate project. Since this reflective learning technique is aimed at identifying best practice and practice improvement, it is best used for large projects where project outcomes are somewhat uncertain. It would not suit day-to-day programs that already operate smoothly; but is well suited to a new project that require staff to operate in new ways – such as working collaboratively with other organisations.
Another key to successful implementation is having organisational support. The ‘feedback loop’ in this model requires action learning participants to problem solve project issues, and create practical solutions. These solutions need to be fed back into organisational structures, so operational guidelines and policies can be adapted appropriately. Many action learning attempts can come unstuck when organisational decision makers do not respond in a timely manner. But with organisational support, action learning can quickly create valuable learning opportunities that benefit the whole of the organisation.
Case Study example:
Action Learning was determined an appropriate strategy for a new pilot project that involved FACS staff working in collaboration with NGO staff for a new service delivery. As part of the Keep Them Safe initiative, the desired project outcome was for FACS staff to work better with Aboriginal children, young people, families and communities. Where an Aboriginal family had been identified for FACS involvement, the field worker would contact the local Aboriginal NGO; and both would work collaboratively with the family – ensuring the family received the appropriate cultural support, while also improving the cultural competency of FACS staff.
Initial face-to-face training brought both NGO and FACS staff together. The purpose for this was multi-layered; to start developing relationships between pilot group members, to experience a collaborative learning experience, and to explain (and begin) the process of action learning. Timeframes were then agreed upon for how the ‘action learning sets’ were going to operate; which was one-month after the project had become active, and once a month for the following 5 months. Initial action learning sets were facilitated by an external trainer, who stepped the group through the 5-step process, ensuring the group remained focussed on identifying best practice and practice improvement.
This project was well suited to the action learning approach as it was a project of significant organisational importance, it required practitioners to operate in new ways, and as it was new; it enabled practitioners to collaboratively create guidelines and procedures that had been tried and tested in the field.
I’m sure you can think of many other examples of organisational projects that would benefit from an Action Learning approach; or maybe you have experience using this model. We would love to hear your experiences, examples and thoughts. Please share them.