Case Study Sowing seeds – from a single action learning programme to a Pan-European movement

By Alessandra GariboldiAlessandra Gariboldi
Head of Research and Development at Fitzcarraldo, Italy

4 years ago, I took part in an international programme called ADESTE. Eight partner organisations in the cultural sector from Spain, Italy, Poland, Denmark, Belgium and the UK came together to research and form strategies for audience development in cultural organisations in Europe.

The intention was to help and learn from one another and to return to our respective countries to roll out training programmes that would make a real difference in the capacity building for audience development.

The fuller details of the ADESTE programme are explained very well in an article entitled International cultural organisation trials action learning, by ALA Associate Surya Turner, who was one of our trainers, along with Ruth Cook.

I really wanted to write this article to reflect on the impact it has had on my career and personal and professional development over the last 3 years. Taking the time to reflect, as I do now, has been a valuable use of time for me, as I consider how I have used the skills I learned in the wider context of my work and in evolving my personal ethos.

Part of the ADESTE programme involved participants attending a 3 day action learning facilitator training course in London, to develop our listening and reflective practice skills. I can honestly say that this was a defining moment for me. It is the most effective technique for leadership and building trust that I have ever come across.

Strong bonds developed between us all, even though we were from different countries, sometimes from quite diverse cultures, and each of us facing different challenges. The experience was intense, hard work and rewarding, and from that moment on, things changed a lot for me.

In my leadership role at Fitzcarraldo, an organisational development and training organisation in Italy, I changed my leadership style and how I managed large groups and I started to give more space and room for others to speak and to grow.

I learned the benefits of using a self-reflective log, which we are now incorporating into other training programmes we have developed here at Fitzcarraldo.

We have also used action learning as an integral part of a huge one year programme in Veneto, Italy for the performing arts sector.

Making change from within

Working in the cultural sector, I am passionate about bringing about change, to make the arts a more diverse landscape and accessible to all. I used to think that the way to achieve this was through knowledge, policies, decision-making, and having the right protocols in place. Now I realise that it’s also about the people, the way that they operate, interact and communicate. I think it is so important that we all learn how we can change ourselves before we seek to change others or anything else.

Action learning has enlightened me about the process of change – that it is something that we should embark on for the long term, it is a process, not simply the implementation of a decision or initiative. It is also an effective practice for sharing knowledge, for learning from our peers, feeling listened to and valued.

Pan-European use of action learning

By keeping in touch with the ADESTE participants, I’ve witnessed how others are using their skills in action learning. Our Polish partners in Warsaw carried on with action learning working with more than 100 professionals, so the benefits could be perpetuated across the cultural sector. They are now known as the ADESTE Warsaw group and have professionals working together in a way that they never worked before.

I’m now working on a project in Croatia, Rijeka2020 European Capital of Culture, which includes action learning as an important element of a programme focused on how to make change happen in a positive and sustainable way. Two of my contacts there have recently attended the 3 day action learning facilitator training course in London so we will be building on the skills learned during the programme.

As I mentioned to Ruth Cook recently, our action learning training 3 years ago really did sow the seeds for a movement that has grown into something far more influential than I could ever have imagined. It influences the way I work and interact with my colleagues and clients on a daily basis, as well as the structure of training programmes that my company designs and delivers.

I started the ADESTE programme with one aim, which was to grow. I’m now part of a European community of past participants who, though more experienced, still benefit from the network we have created. We share the same perspective, which is to change the approach to culture, to influence policies and make a lasting impact.

Action learning has had a huge impact on my life. One thing I would say to anyone who is thinking of using action learning, is to go right ahead and give it a go, you simply won’t look back.