Living the Question

Action Learning

The Practice


The Practice

"Community of Light "
by Candee Basford
Copywrite 2005



Action learning is based on the idea that a small group of people can come together, dialogue, inquire, act and reflect in a way that deepens our understanding and our capacity to make a difference.

Action Learning follows a sequence of Question > Action> Reflection>. This sequence is repeated over time. It begins with our questions, followed by our actions and then our personal and collective reflections on the meaning of our learning.

Using an action learning approach we can find wisdom and support within the group. This allows us to move forward, often into unknown and uncharted territory.

There are probably many ways to organize and facilitate action learning groups although practical information about action learning is sparse and complex.

For that reason (and because I think action learning is a hopeful approach for humanity), I want to share my approach to facilitating and participating an action learning group.

Gather a group of 3-8 people who are “in the thick of it”. By that I mean people who are living with questions or puzzles. Perhaps the puzzle is about how to create inclusive community. Or maybe the puzzle is about how to more forward a dream or idea.

Gather folks who are willing to open up their questions and puzzles with others. Gather people who are willing to meet over time. Network with friends and colleagues to help gather people in different locality.

Convene your gathering in a space that has few distractions, a space that has comfort and warmth, a space that invites conversation.

Sit in a circle so everyone can hear and see each other. If possible sit around a table so participants can try doodling and graphic recording while listening. Welcome all and thank them for coming. Invite each person to introduce himself or herself, to talk about why they accepted the invitation to join the group and what they hope will happen because of their involvement in this group. Then, with the help of everyone in the group, decide how often and how many times the group want to meet.

In this early conversation, the group is setting the intentions or paving a broad path for future conversations. It’s as though you are building a frame or container for the conversations that will follow.

I often graphic record this conversation. This recording allows the conversation and ideas to become visible. Here’s an example of a “conversation frame” created during a first meeting with a group of family members living in the Cincinnati, Ohio region.

After this beginning conversation, share the process of action learning. Explain it as a simple sequence of Question – Action – Reflection.

It helps to both explain and illustrate the process of action learning. I do this in several ways. I share my own history with action learning. I share the questions I’ve explored and the results of my personal learning and my participation in action learning groups.

I also share the sequence of action learning

I’ve also found it helpful to share some of the questions previous participants have explored.

And finally, I share the testimonies of former participants.

The best way to learn about action learning is to DO it.

Ask if anyone in the group is willing to start off by sharing his or her own burning question, a question he or she is living with. Invariably some brave soul will volunteer to share their question. Model listening and ‘thinking together” without giving advice.

Next, ask the person who just shared their question to next think about an action they might take in the next few weeks. I might ask: What action can you take around your question? Or what can you do to learn more about your question?

Note that I did not say, “What action can you take to resolve your question? Or “What can you do to answer your question?”

Instead I asked, “What action can you take to learn more about your question?”

More on questions.

After the first person has framed their question and shared ideas for possible future actions, ask for a second volunteer, and then a third and so on.

Explain that when we gather again we will repeat this very process, each of us taking turns sharing out question(s), the actions we took between gatherings, what happened and what we learned.

Reflection is often the most difficult step in action learning. Encourage and support people to consider how they might reflect deeply on their learning. Some participants have reflected via poetry and essay.

One way I reflect is through image- making. Here are some examples of my personal reflections on my experiences in action learning groups.

Before closing the meeting, ask everyone to bring something with them when they come to the next gathering. Ask them to bring a “gift”, the same gift for each participant. Explain that the gift can be a quote, article, movie title, web page or anything connected to a question or action posed in the group. Besides the gifts I’ve mentioned, folks have also brought as gifts things like candles, flashlights, sand from a beach, cookies, and hearts. Gifts can become metaphors or themes of learning so pay attention the gifts that are shared.
copyright © 2005-2006