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Action learning across the decades: Case studies in health and social care settings in 1966 and 2016

Ken Eason (Design School, Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK and The Bayswater Institute, London)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 2 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to explore how action learning concepts were used in two healthcare projects undertaken many decades apart. The specific purpose in both cases was to examine how action learning can contribute to shared learning across key stakeholders in a complex socio-technical system. In each case study, action learning supported joint design programmes and the sharing of perspectives about the complex system under investigation.


Two action learning projects are described: first, the Hospital Internal Communications (HIC) project led by Reg Revans in the 1960s. Senior staff in ten London hospitals formed action learning teams to address communication issues. Second, in the Better Outcomes for People with Learning Disabilities: Transforming Care (BOLDTC) project, videoconferencing equipment enabled people with learning disabilities to increase their opportunities to communicate. A mutual learning process was established to enable stakeholders to explore the potential of the technical system to improve individual care.


The HIC project demonstrated the importance of evidence being shared between team members and that action had to engage the larger healthcare system outside the hospital. The BOLDTC project confirmed the continuing relevance of action learning to healthcare today. Mutual learning was achieved between health and social care specialists and technologists.


This work draws together the socio-technical systems tradition (considering both social and technical issues in organisations) and action learning to demonstrate that complex systems development needs to be undertaken as a learning process in which action provides the fuel for learning and design.



The BOLDTC project was funded by the UK Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare. It is a pleasure to acknowledge the project leadership of Adam Hoare, the author’s co-worker Bill Maton-Howarth and all the contributors that made the project possible.


Eason, K. (2017), "Action learning across the decades: Case studies in health and social care settings in 1966 and 2016", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 118-128.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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