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Am I doing it right? Facilitating action learning for service improvement

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

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 18 July 2008




The purpose of this paper is to enquire into the role and skills of the action learning facilitator in the context of service improvement work in the UK's National Health Service (NHS). An earlier companion paper examined the concept of service improvement and the possible contribution of action learning as a means of bringing about both personal and organisational development.


The paper takes the form of a case study. The research reports on the facilitation of action learning sets which formed part of a leadership development programme in the NHS. Data were collected via telephone interviews, focus groups, action learning sets and a World Café event.


The action learning facilitator's role is encircled by questions of method, approaches, skills and competencies, and crucially by complex contextual factors. Three role models are offered for the action learning facilitator – i.e. initiator, coach, and leader – and the paper concludes that any person fulfilling this role should develop the habits of reflection, critique and learning as part of developing their practice. Supervision and developmental support are also useful for people who are always asking themselves – “Am I doing it right?”

Research limitations/implications

This case study on which these findings are based was developed at a time of great turmoil in the NHS. The dramatic specifics of the case serve to illustrate the critical variability and uniqueness of context. However, we believe that this does not greatly affect the efficacy of general conclusions drawn about action learning facilitation.

Practical implications

The practice of action learning is developing rapidly in many different organisational and community settings, and there is a growing demand for its skilful facilitation.


Currently there is little literature on what constitutes appropriate development for action learning facilitators. The paper gives some clear choices and guidelines for the development of this role.



Pedler, M. and Abbott, C. (2008), "Am I doing it right? Facilitating action learning for service improvement", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 185-199.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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