Interconnecting branching networks and Action Learning
In NCVA I work with administrative staff in handling data, designing computer programmes to process data and designing forms and other documentation. In contrast to my school role where I am primarily an educator, in NCVA I am primarily an administrator and the focus of that administrative work is firmly on finding ICT solutions to the difficulties of supporting the certification process. As part of my practice I have researched with development officers, teachers, school administrators and staff who handle the certification data and I used feedback from all of these to modify the practice of the certification section.
Over a period of time In an attempt to bring my practice into line with my values I had worked in collaboration with administration staff to develop means of working that recognised the multiple relationships both within the certification procedures involved, and in the form in which assessment procedures are combined and moderated. While some successes were achieved these were essentially about refining existing policies and procedures and making them more efficient. In many respects the changes that were being made were largely technical changes. These involved what Argyris (1982: xii, 159) calls ‘single loop learning’. Argyris suggests that these work well for routine programmed activities or emergency situations that require prompt unilateral action but are not suitable for ‘non-routine, non-programmed, difficult issues’ (Argyris 1982: 160). These more complex situations require learning that involves ‘examining our underlying individual and organisational values and assumptions’. He refers to this as ‘double-loop’ learning.
The move toward the action learning group was recognition that we needed to get out of established roles (Tsoukas 2002: 423) and disrupt rules and routines (Beech et al. 2002: 473) if novelty was to be encouraged. Setting up the action learning groups which included people across the organisation participating in different relationships to those that they usually worked in and using a different approach to work than they were used to produced the ‘far from equilibrium position’ required for change.
Forming an Action Learning Group
The proposal for the formation of an action learning group suggested that the model for the group would be innovative but would draw on the work on reflective practice, particularly critical reflective practice, and of learning organisations as developed by Donald Schön (1987, 1991, 1995) Peter Senge (1990, 1997), Chris Argyris (1982) and Edwin Schein (1996) and on the action research of Jack Whitehead (1989, 1993, 1998, 2003, 2004) Pam Lomax (1994, 1996, 1998) and Jean McNiff (1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995,). The group will be self-directed and participatory with the members of the group deciding on their own areas of learning or research and on the content of their study. While certification of the work of the group would be desirable, the group itself will decide whether it is required and what format it will take. The purpose of the group was focused on professional development in the context of building a learning organisation.
Organising the action learning group
The fortnightly meeting of the group were organised in a structured fashion within a programme that was scheduled over eight sessions. Each session had a theme intended to support the development of spirals of research as described by McNiff. (1988, 1996) Within the first meeting each member of the group identified a concern within their practice. With the support of the group they developed plans of action to address the concern. They undertake action according to the plan. They then evaluate the action and make adjustments as necessary.
The fortnightly meeting was divided into three main components. Each session started with an input from an experienced action researcher. These inputs addressed specific aspects of carrying out action research e.g. Principles and practice of action research, action and observation, evaluating the outcomes of action. The second component involved a workshop applying aspects of the input to the individual’s research project and finally, the third components was concerned with planning the next stage by entering into a dialogue on their own action.