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Small Development Projects 2016 ACTION! A good practice guide to action learning in higher education

Project Lead:
Tracy Ellis, Organisational Development Advisor, University of Liverpool

Administrative home HEI:
University of Liverpool

Project Team Members:
This is a collaborative partnership between 7 North West of England HEIs and Huddersfield University which is also a member of the North West Staff Developers Regional Network.  The project team members are listed below:

  • Tracy Ellis, University of Liverpool
  • Meriel Box, Liverpool John Moores University
  • Gemma Edwards, Chester University
  • Nikki Lambourne, University of Central Lancashire
  • Denise Fieldhouse, Manchester University
  • Annette Robinson, Lancaster University
  • Karen Chubb, Cumbria University
  • Martin Plant, Huddersfield University

Member institutions of the North West Staff Developers Network have participated in the Aurora programme delivered by the Leadership Foundation.  The added value that this programme has brought was considered at a network meeting in March 2015 and all reported that participants had found the action learning component of the Aurora programme invaluable in terms of; developing relationships, building leadership capability and networking with those from other institutions; broadening knowledge and changing practice through exploring differing perspectives; having the opportunity to engage in non-judgemental, confidential conversations with peers across the sector.  

Although network member institutions do offer action learning to support leadership development, there was agreement that the value of a cross-institutional opportunity would allow continuation of the benefits for Aurora alumni and open up the opportunity to others who have not participated in Aurora.  Additionally, the collaborative nature of the initiative will serve to strengthen the relationship of the North West regional network and other participating networks, and their respective organisations; offer continued support initiated by the Leadership Foundation via Aurora; and enable the network to grow and learn together by developing and disseminating an innovative way of supporting the development of female leaders and mixed gender groups to enhance capability and capacity - supporting Athena Swan initially and Gender Equality Mark in due course.

Aims and Objectives:
To develop a methodology to enable a group of universities to deliver sustainable cross-institutional action learning to “enhance our networks and communities of practice to enable greater peer support and challenge which also create development opportunities that are bespoke for specific communities of learners”. 

To develop an approach to support a cross-institutional group of universities to: 

  • set up a cross-institutional action learning initiative supporting women and men
  • adopt a project management approach to maximise the likelihood of embedding and sustainability
  • evaluate the project to be able to demonstrate impact


A project team consisting of experienced action learning set facilitators from each participating institution already exists. An experienced project manager has been appointed and a project plan is in place for the pilot, Phase 1. Phase 2 of the project will enable the learning from Phase 1 to be analysed and shared via a useful guide for HE colleagues across the UK and Ireland who want to deploy a similar initiative to supplement existing LF or regional development interventions. The current website ( will continue to be utilised. This will create greater sustainability of the work already undertaken during Phase 1. 

Outputs and outcomes:
The outputs will be:

  • a summary of reflection from the facilitators’ perspective
  • a report on the initial feedback from phase 1 of the initiative;
  • a journal paper: an article giving an account of our experiences submitted to the Action Learning Research and Practice Journal  (
  • a good practice guide for use by cross-institutional groups incorporating sections on: project managing; facilitating; evaluating and disseminating cross institutional action learning;
  • presentations to other regional group to disseminate the outputs and outcomes associated with the project;
  • presentations at the SDF November 2016 Conference, UHR Conference and Aurora Champions Conference
  • West Yorkshire Staff Development Network to shadow the learning and contribute to evaluation
  • an independent evaluative report to include: linkage from phase 1 evaluation; reflections from the action learning set members; impact of the action learning on individuals and practice; impact of the good practice guide and a case study.
  • final project report to the Leadership Foundation.

The outcomes will be:

  • The growth of cross-institutional action learning as a method of supporting internal and external leadership development activities;
  • A good practice approach for organisational/staff development groups, and the Leadership Foundation, to promote and build a sustainable method of professional peer support;
  • The development of individual leadership capability, via sector peer groups, leading to capacity building within own organisations.
  • Development of the initiative to support male colleagues in the future.

Milestones (quarterly):

  • By end July 2016

    • Data collection of initial reactions from Phase 1 of the project for the evaluative report
  • By end August 2016
    • Submission of reflective accounts by facilitators
    • Facilitators story told through submission of reflective accounts and blog
    • Evaluative report on initial reactions of set members for phase 1 of the project
    • Summary report of facilitators’ reflections for phase 1 of the project
  • By end November 2016
    • Completion of good practice guide
  • By end February 2017
    • Dissemination of experience and good practice guide to at least 2 other regions in the UK
    • Presentation at least two conferences
  • By end of March 2017
    • Final project report including initial feedback collected during phase 1, overview of the approach to producing and eventual content of the good practice guide, phase 2 evaluation including: focus group feedback; telephone interview feedback; case study; and initial reactions to good practice guide from other regions and conference participants.
SDP2016-02 North West Cross Institutional Action Learning Project - Final Report
SDP2016-02 North West Cross Institutional Action Learning Project - Final Report View Document
SDP2016-02 NWCIAL External Evaluation Report - FINAL
SDP2016-02 NWCIAL External Evaluation Report - FINAL View Document
SDP2016-02 Powerpoint for SDF Conference
SDP2016-02 Powerpoint for SDF Conference View Document
SDP2016-02 ACTION FINAL FEB 17 View Document
SDP2016-02 NWCIAL Mini Conference 2017
SDP2016-02 NWCIAL Mini Conference 2017 View Document