Growing action learning at the NSPCC

ALA is currently undertaking an exciting piece of work with a major children’s welfare charity, training their Consultant Social Workers (CSWs) – whose remit is to ensure quality of practice across the organisation – as action learning facilitators. The CSWs then set up and run action learning sets for social work practitioners to tackle real practical challenges in their professional lives. The aim is to build staff confidence, embed reflective practice and drive improvement on a number of themes including safeguarding.

To be accredited, the CSWs write a learning log reflecting on their own development as facilitators. Reviewing these logs for the most recent cohort, I was struck by how rich and multi-dimensional their learning had been, as illustrated by the quotes in italics below.

Personal impact

The cornerstone of our facilitator training is repeated experiences of working in an action learning set – as presenter, member and facilitator. This process increases self-awareness: “I discovered some of the unknown about myself during the course” which in turn enables new ways of being: “it has made me think about things that impact on me in a different and more positive light.” This personal experience of action learning meant that CSWs left the initial training with a deep and authentic belief in its benefits. “I went away feeling really positive and motivated about facilitating sets within the team where I am based.”

Using the skills in different contexts

The CSWs found that the ‘action learning approach’ of open questioning and active listening was useful in many other contexts.

“The training has changed how I think about supporting others […] not only do I feel more confident in my role, but I am empowering others to feel more confident about their skills in problem solving and decision making.”

Another participant reported that “clients are more willing to talk openly and think about their problems” after she consciously applied an action learning mindset in client meetings. And another found it helpful in influencing a group of fellow professionals at a case conference:

“the use of open questions enabled the group to think about the young person in a new way and consider other options.”

Impact on practitioners who attend the sets

Even at this early stage, there is evidence of positive impact on practitioners from the action learning sets that the CSWs are running. Examples from feedback include:

  • the opportunity to think critically and deeply about practice dilemmas
  • building the ‘practice wisdom’ of the whole team by listening to cases from other services/commissions
  • increased confidence in multi-agency settings
  • ability to critically challenge own judgments and thereby make more effective interventions
  • improved cross-team communication and relationships.

Each of these outcomes has the potential to benefit the children and young people who are the reason for the charity’s existence. We look forward to gathering more evidence of the impact as the programme continues. By creating opportunities for learning and change, action learning is proving itself a powerful tool for building organisational capacity.

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