Making waves – action learning for social change

I had the pleasure this month of running a workshop with my colleague Ruth Cook at the Organisational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities conference hosted by the University of Liverpool Management School. The conference was well themed: Learning to make a difference – what we aspire to in the L&D and OD world.

Our workshop, Making Waves, gave us the opportunity to share and learn from colleagues in the action learning community. While we enjoyed contributing and are indeed proud of our pro bono work with NEON, (the New Economics Organising Network) a great network of dynamic young campaigners for social change, it was also great to hear of other applications of action learning happening around the world.

Action learning – a global movement

Our Tasmanian participants talked about how they are starting to use action learning to reduce waste in the food chain in Tasmania – using a business-driven approach across the whole supply chain. Participants talked about an initiative in Denmark to bring together participants and charities for solving business issues, such as meeting a fundraising target for the Red Cross.

Some of the work we shared included our work with Oxfam Scotland and the Poverty Alliance, to train project managers in action learning facilitation. The purpose was to bring together all stakeholders, including those with lived experience, and to reduce dependence on food banks by examining issues systemically.

Galvanising social change

We concluded by noticing what is different when applying action learning for social change. Unlike leadership development applications, the focus really is on the issue, which is not always one held by a single person, but perhaps in a system or supply chain.

Some of our social change action learning work has shown us that it is good to have a little more flexibility with the model – young people committed to bringing change in the world often take actions before the day is out. It’s really inspiring to see such a strong action focus. And shared ownership of the outcomes is often present, broadening the impact of the benefits of action learning and so reaching way beyond the presenting issue holder.

It is really exciting to be part of this work, to witness different projects from around the world, and to contribute in our small way to bringing about a fairer and more equitable world. Long may it continue.

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