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Lean and learning: action learning for service improvement

Mike Pedler (CHILL (The Centre for Health Improvement & Leadership), University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK)
Christine Abbott (CHILL (The Centre for Health Improvement & Leadership), University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 2 May 2008




The purpose of this paper is to examine questions concerning service improvement and the possible contribution of action learning as a means of bringing about both personal and organisational development. A second companion paper deals with the facilitation issues in this context (submitted to Leadership in Health Services, December 2007).


This research reports on the experiences of participants on a leadership development programme, who were seeking to effect service improvements in their professional domains. Data were collected via telephone interviews, focus groups, action learning sets and a world cafe event.


The paper concludes that the definition of “service improvement” is multiple and problematic. It concludes that action learning and service improvement can be natural partners but only if the action learning design is crafted to the specifics of the context.

Research limitations/implications

This case study was developed at a time of great turmoil in the NHS. The findings may be taken as indicative and instructive rather than reproducible.

Practical implications

NHS service improvements are failing to keep pace with targets due to an over‐reliance on centrally initiated programmes and a deficit in local efforts. NHS and other managers will find this paper useful to help them bring about service improvements at local level.


As far as the authors know there are no other published accounts of service improvement initiatives developed via action learning.



Pedler, M. and Abbott, C. (2008), "Lean and learning: action learning for service improvement", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 87-98.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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