Find information about a range of approaches to managing organisational change – from Action Learning Sets, to the 7s model.
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- a Number of entries: 3
Action Learning Set (ALS)
Action Learning Sets (ALSs) are used to stimulate critical reflection on real-life, work-based problems the answers to which are unclear (Revans 1980, 1982, 1998). Rooted in experience based learning theory, this widely-adopted, group approach to problem-solving emerged in response to the assumption ‘only that which can be observed and measured counts as knowledge’ (Whitehead & McNiff, 2013). It takes the challenges of professional practice in a context of organisational change and uses these as an opportunity for reflection and development.
The approach is formulated as: L = P + Q + R (with P relating to the formal knowledge and skills that people have been trained in through external and in-house training).
P= Programmed knowledge
R = Reflection
A common Action Learning Set process
- each member reports briefly on recent work events
- members choose who will speak about a situation they are currently facing at work
- the presenter describes the situation, problem or challenge
- set members ask open questions to help the presenter gain insight and be open to new solutions - set members do not give advice, pass judgement or talk about their own situation; rather they help the presenter review options and decide on action
- set members reflect on the group process and share their own individual learning
- the presenter initiates changes in the workplace
- at the next set meeting the presenter reports on the action they have taken, and any further issues
(Adapted from Revans, 1980)
Strengths and limitations
It has huge potential in continuing professional development terms by offering group members a way of developing skills in active listening, inquiry and advocacy with the aim of gently challenging peers about the nature and possible causes of the problem they are seeking to understand. However, some are critical of the subjective nature of such reflection.
In relation to social care change action learning provides a means through which key change leaders can reflect on how they can respond to issues and improve their future practice. In doing so they can help to achieve the principles of social change in practice and create both personal and organisational resilience. Clear and agreed values within the set help to keep the focus on achieving positive change with others and frame the interactions between set members.
- Megginson, D. and Whitaker, V. (2007) Continuing Professional Development, 2nd Edn, London: CIPD
- Revans, R. (1980) Action learning: New techniques for management, London: Blond and Briggs, Ltd
- Revans, R. W. (1982) The origin and growth of action learning, Brickley: Chartwell-Bratt
- Revans, R. W. (1998) ABC of action learning, London: Lemos and Crane
- Reynolds M (1998) “Reflection and Critical reflection in Management Learning” Management Learning 29(2) 183-200
- Reynolds, M. and Vince, R. (Eds) (2004), Organizing Reflection, Ashgate Publishing Company, Aldershot.
- Skills for Care (2014) Critically reflective action learning: Improving social work practice through critically reflective action learning, Leeds: Skills for Care.
Action research provides the methodological basis for many planned models of organisational change and is widely used. The process is designed to enable participants to gain new insights into their situation as a spur to action and change. It seeks to:
- analyse a known problem from a wide range of perspectives;
- identify a range of possible solutions
- test the ability of the chosen solution(s) to solve the original problem.
Ideally suited to exploring and addressing complex ‘known’ problems with no obvious solutions, the approach is often undertaken by practitioners with the help of external consultants to facilitate the learning process. It involves cycles of planning to inform interventions, action in the light of planning, and an assessment of impact used to inform future planning cycles. Participants’ learning is thus informed by a combination of theory, action and observed effects rather than by theory alone. In this way the approach directly addresses the relationship between theory and practice.
Stages in the action research cycle
- Problem identification: – by a person with influence within the organisation
- Consultation with expert facilitator(s): – facilitators and organisational representatives share and explore their values to foster open collaboration
- Data collection and preliminary analysis: – typically undertaken jointly by facilitators and organisational members to explore the underlying causes of manifest problems, drawing on multiple sources of data (observation, interview, questionnaire, and performance data)
- Feedback to client / group: – basic data and initial analysis presented for validation
- Joint diagnosis of problem: – facilitator explores the main themes of the problems with the group
- Joint action planning: – agreement on action required drawing on the culture of the organisation, nature of problems identified, and available resources
- Action: – implementation of interventions to an agreed timescale
- Data gathering and action: – measurement of the effects of the intervention(s), leading to re-diagnosis and further action (cycle back to step 4 above, as required)
Adapted from Cummings and Worley (2009, pp25-6)
Strengths and limitations
Much of the appeal of action research lies in its potential to actively engage and involve diverse groups of stakeholders in change, and therefore skilled and collaborative facilitation is vital. It is increasingly used in complex multi-agency settings to explicitly address power imbalances across multiple stakeholder groups. This often includes the training and development of stakeholders in change management techniques to promote the sharing of responsibilities and encourage continuous change. On this model, external consultants work with organisational members as co-investigators; each bringing their expert knowledge of change techniques or local context to bear - and each gaining insights into the nature of complex change as a result. While there is much agreement on the need for collaboration for the approach to work, accounts within the literature are largely written from the perspectives of facilitators rather than wider team members.
Concern may also be expressed over the extent to which inhibitors to change will be identified by collaboration alone; the impact of changes (‘olutions’) are thoroughly investigated; and the model is implemented in the light of the collaborative principles which underpin it, as opposed to being used to build support for a ‘preferred solution’ by powerful individuals.
In relation to social care change action research can support the gathering of evidence to inform the purpose and detail of a change process and participatory models can facilitate the engagement of people who access services, carers and staff within the research and decision making process. If evidence and process is captured and shared it can also contribute to organisational learning.
- Dickens, L. And Watkins, K. (2006) Action research: rethinking Lewin, In Gallos, JV (ed.) Organisation Development (pp. 185-222), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
- Greenwood, D., Whyte, W., and Harkavy, I. (1993) Participatory action research as process and as goal, Human Relations, 46, 2, 175-92
- Lewin, K. (1946) Action research and minority problems. In K Lewin and GW Allport (eds.) (1948) Resolving social conflict, London: Harper and Row
- Lewin, K. (1947) Group decisions and social change. In M Gold (ed) The complete social scientist: a Kurt Lewin reader. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC, USA
- Peters, M. and Robinson, V. (1984) The origins and status of action research, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 20(2), 113-124
- Weisbord, M. (1987) Productive workplaces, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Collaborative Action Research Network (CARN): an international network which aims to encourage and support action research projects in educational, health, social care, commercial, and public services settings.
Appreciative Inquiry (AI)
Many approaches to change begin with identifying the ‘problem’ to be solved and working back to understand what are the causes of the problem and therefore how can it be addressed. In contrast, AI frames change as a mystery to be embraced and starts from identifying the best of what could be, discussing what should be, and innovating what will be. It is sustained by the belief that social systems evolve in the direction of the positive images that individuals hold about them – looking forwards and extending ‘that which is going right’.
The approach applies positive questions with the aim of surfacing, and then extending, the ‘positive core’ ideas across the networks of individuals which make up organisations. By making positive human spirit publicly available, self-organising networks begin to construct a more positive organisational future, leading to revolutionary transformation.
Stages in Appreciative Inquiry:
- Discovery: – Exploring the positive capacity present in the organisation through engagement by and with large numbers of organisational members in order to discover and share awareness of positive potential.
- Dream: – Coming together to share findings, positive feedback leads to the development of a vision (of a better world), purpose(to create the vision), and strategy (towards this end)
- Design: – Once a dream has been agreed, redesign is undertaken in order to realise it. Sources of resistance are reduced to the extent that the dream is widely shared by participants
- Destiny: – The transformative effect of changes in the way that people think and talk about the world results in realisation of the vision. The organisation is created anew through organisational members connecting and co-creating and so mobilising the potential for change. (Adapted from Cooperrider and Sekerka, 2006, pp.225-6)
Magruder-Watkins et al (2011) offer detailed guidance on each, and add a preparatory stage (‘Define’) to incorporate initial discussions between those facilitating the process and those who instigated it.
Strengths and limitations
It is suited to changes which require the development of networks of relationships between participants across multiple organisational boundaries. Additionally, the exploration of positive experiences, capabilities and visions for a better future may act as a powerful mobilising force, focussing participants’ energies on action toward shared goals. It is designed to tap into participants’ feelings and connect their developing awareness of the interconnections between individuals to an emergent change agenda. There are possible tensions between the focus on overarching change and the engagement of individuals, which may reduce the ability of AI to adhere to its humanistic value base.
In relation to social care change, AI fits well into the principles of encouraging shared learning and partnerships and seeking positive engagement from people accessing services, carers and other stakeholders. Its ability to engage senior management and other political interests in the process will be vital, and there is a potential that the perceived strengths and assets may not match the objectives set by internal or external requirements.
- Cooperrider, DL (1999) Positive image, positive action: The affirmative basis of organizing. In S. Srivastva and DL Cooperrider (eds.) Appreciative management and leadership : The power of positive thought and action in organisation (Rev. ed. pp. 91-125), Cleveland: Lakeshore Communications
- Cooperrider, DL and Sekerka, LE (2006) Toward a theory of positive organisational change. In Gallos, JV (ed.) Organisation Development (pp.223-238), San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
- Magruder-Watkins, J., Mohr, B. And Kelly, R. (2011) Appreciative Inquiry: change at the speed of imagination, San Francisco: Wiley
- Quinn, RE (2000) Change the world: How ordinary people can achieve extraordinary results. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Appreciative Inquiry Commons: a worldwide portal devoted to the fullest sharing of academic resources and practical tools on Appreciative Inquiry: