Symposium on Action Learning

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The articles in this volume, which are international in scope, examine the theory of Action Learning (AL) and the application of its principles to the public sector. This focus is atypical in that most AL programs are initiated in the for-profit business sector. The articles also address the use of AL in training and educational settings.

This symposium supports the mission and purpose of PAQ's sponsoring organization, ASPA's national section on Professional and Organizational Development (SPOD). SPOD has functioned as a section since the mid to late 1960s. It grew out of the OD movement and the New Public Administration (The Minnowbrook Conference) as both gained world-wide attention. The principles of these movements have come full circle. We believe that an examination of Action Learning may facilitate the kind of theoretical and practical learning advocated by these movements.

Most of the symposium articles contain effective descriptions of Action Learning in both its theory and practice. Kim and Jin, Nufrio and Tietje, and Getha-Taylor all provide ample definitions. AL is "a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, a team, and an organization while doing so" (Marquardt, 2007, p. 96). Nuflrio and Tietje, Kim and Jin, and De Loo describe the foundations and origins of AL from the writings of Revans (1978/1998), Dilworth (1998), and Marquardt (2004, 2007). Getha-Taylor illustrates AL and its connection to the fields of organizational learning and collaborative leadership (Argyris, 1999; Lipshitz, Popper, & Friedman, 2002; Schein, 1992, 1993; Senge, 1990).

The symposium also addresses the practical side of AL, that is, AL in action. Kim and Jin describe a government-wide initiative to train Korea's top civil service executives in the principles of AL. Raudenbush and Marquardt report on how AL programs over a period of time (January, 2002 through December, 2006) were used successfully at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve specific leadership skills. Nufrio and Tietje explain how AL can be used in a public administration program to help MPA students become agents of change.

One cannot overlook the successes described in these cases. These cases, however, are not challenge-free. Kim and Jin found the need for greater management support in an AL program. Nufrio and Tietje and De Loo share this concern as well as the challenge of confronting the organizational dynamics (power and politics) in ways that promote learning, growth, and change at the individual and organizational level. Getha-Taylor argues that AL may be the vehicle for making the Department of Homeland Security more effective in disaster/security responsiveness.

Regarding the assessment of AL, Kim and Jin and Nufrio and Tietje provide qualitative and quantitative assessments of AL both in its processes and results. Kim and Jin report on trainee/participant perceptions of the AL experience. …