What is Action Learning Research?

In simple terms, Action Learning is a way of conducting research that is experiential. We live our lives in an open and non-judgemental way in order to learn about different issues led by our curiosity. We meet once a month to reflect on the past month, and look forwards ot the next. This session is often quite intense as our lives are affected significantly by the research project and vice versa. At the end of the project we will put together a handbook for action learning methodology, in order to share our learnings and model to a wider audience.

The main points of Action Learning as a methodology;

  •  Firstly, lasting behavioural change is more likely to follow the re-interpretation of past experiences than the acquisition of fresh knowledge     
  •  Secondly, that such changes in attitude and behaviour are often evoked or drawn out by questioning insight, and
  • Thirdly, that people’s desire to learn (and change) is stimulated by the need to deal with real problems or engage with real opportunities.

These elements form an ongoing cycle (experience-reflection-action) of learning.

The Year Long Cycle

At the beginning of the year we will collectively and individually identify the main goals/ questions we want to pursue over the year both. This is based on the premise that to achieve external change, we too must change, whether as an individual, household, community or city. External questions could relate to access to land, infrastructure, and producers being able to make a year round livelihood. Internal questions may relate to changing our diet and our shopping/ collecting habits/ currency; or how to come together to organise a part of a new delivery system that cuts out the middle-person.

At the end of the year, we repeat the process for the next year or stage of our journeys mapping our findings and the results of our experimental actions, as well as how our understanding of our goals/ questions and our subsequent actions have evolved and matured.

The Monthly Cycle

Bearing the overarching (year-long) goals-questions in mind, the heart of action learning lies in a monthly cycle of action-reflection-analysis-plan-action!

The reflection-analysis-plan stages of the cycle take place in the context of a monthly action learning (AL) set day, leaving 27-30 days for action (and observation). On the AL set days, each person has a time slot of 30 minutes, to reflect on the last month, and a 30 minute slot to plan actions for the next month (based on the experience of the last month). The other members of the set assist this process by asking open-ended questions, no advice or criticism is allowed. Thus the AL set is a very safe space, where empathy, empowerment and solidarity can flourish, rather than group-think and prejudice.

By identifying small and immediate action steps to take which are then regularly evaluated, we are empowered to get on with immersing ourselves in exploring and making changes whilst being freed from needing to have a blue-print that has all the right questions/ plans/ answers from day one. This allows a more flexible approach to pursuing change that is ultimately more sustainable as it takes into account both external and internal factors, that are both fluid and cannot be fully known until we start to act. In other words, our research and actions will be based more on earthy experience than pre-determined abstract theory, an approach that has its roots in informal adult education. This offers a more accessible and attractive approach to personal and societal change, especially for those who are not already ‘converts’ to sustainability. We will also employ a number of other tried and tested reflective, open-ended, ‘popular’ and change orientated research methods that compliment action learning and can be readily used by individuals and groups alike in their daily life and activities.