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Action Learning Cycle

One technique a reflexive monitor can implement is an action learning cycle (van Mierlo et al. 2010).  Reflection and action are structured to assist the project team achieve their ambition for change by mitigating systemic failures (Nederlof et al., 2011; van Mierlo et al. 2010).

Step 1 - Observe:

The process of observation draws on multiple forms of evidence from body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, interpersonal communication, language used, content of the conversations, short interviews, conversations, structured participant reflections, and secondary data sources (Dick, 1991; Forester, 1999; Kitchin and Tate, 2000; van Mierlo et al. 2010).  A moderate amount of the data collected will be based on the experience of the reflexive monitor. Van Mierlo (2013 pers. comm.) found that successful reflective monitors were typically experienced facilitators.  As a consequence, they are familiar with structuring small group processes of dialogue and decision making.

Step 2 - Analyse and Evaluate:
All the data collected during the previous stage undergoes thematic analysis (Flick, 2009). The depth of analysis depends on the speed at which the cycle is moving; the faster the cycle the quicker the thematic analysis. The key questions during analysis are:
    1. Are these behaviours and actions consistent with the co-innovation principles (i.e., will it assist the project overcome or change any potential barriers to success within the system?)
    2. What will the likely impact of the observed behaviours actions or practice be on the ambition for change if no intervention occurs?
    3. What is driving the observed behaviour, practices and action?
Van Mierlo et al. (2010) and Nederlof et al., (2011) provide insights into what behaviours and system characteristics are desirable and what may hinder system change. This literature and the reflexive monitor’s previous facilitation experience provide a reference point against which to evaluate behaviours and activities within the project.
Step 3 - Reflect:
Once the data has been analysed, reflection on how behaviours, practice or activities could be altered (or current practice strengthened) to enhance the change ambition or generate system change.  Each option should be carefully evaluated based on the benefits and costs of its application.  Who is involved in the refection will depend on the speed at which the cycle is moving; the faster the cycle is moving the less people will be involved.  If the cycle is occurring rapidly, the reflexive monitor maybe the sole reflector.
Step 4 - Act:
All actions and interventions will be undertaken by the most suitable person and will depend on the nature of the issue. For example, it may be the reflexive monitor in a meeting setting or the project manager in consultation with other project members.  How these occur will need to be negotiated with the project team at an early stage of the project. There is a wealth of literature and practice which may inform the choice of action and the benefits and trade-offs associated with each alternative (for example: Dick, 1991; Chambers, 2002; van Mierlo et al. 2010; Chevalier and Buckles, 2011).  
Finally, the impacts of actions will be observed and monitored, effectively beginning the cycle again.

Speed of the action learning cycle

It is important to note that this cycle occurs at multiple levels within the project, at different frequencies and with different participants. This concept is illustrated below.  For example, this cycle may occur several times during the course of a single meeting resulting in small and rapid interventions or challenges.  This type of intervention may include challenging participants to ensure stakeholder knowledge is strongly represented, or pointing out trade-offs which may have been overlooked.  Short cycles are suited to dealing with less complex issues as they arise while longer cycles will deal with more systemic pervasive issues.
​Diagrammatic representation of two different action learning cycles occurring within one innovation project  



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