Why add action learning to your existing learning processes? Our piloters' reflections

29 November 2022

The knowledge of frontline humanitarian staff is fundamental to good humanitarian action yet frontline learning has consistently lacked support. 
We have now designed, trialled and refined two new practical resource packs on tacit knowledge and action learning, as a well as a new paper with reflections on the learning from piloting these approaches.  

During the pilot process we heard from MEAL specialists on what they found valuable about the action learning approach and how it complements the existing MEAL tools and processes in their organisations.

A simple and fast approach to generating learning 

Generating learning to improve projects and address challenges can be difficult for many humanitarian organisations: processes are often resource-intensive, occur at long intervals and reflections are not always solutions-focused. On the other hand, action learning is relatively easy to implement with limited resources on a regular basis and focuses on finding solutions to immediate challenges. Action learning ‘sets’ work best when up to 5 people meet regularly in short sessions to discuss challenges affecting them individually as they arise in their work.  

A set of steps easy to follow

 Action learning sessions follow a simple structure. The ALNAP resource pack contains three different types of action learning exercises, each with simple step-by-step guides that can be tailored to local contexts.

Yoann, the MEAL Coordinator for Solidarités in Syria found the method very efficient.

Learning about unexpected issues 

Typical MEAL processes often link learning to the expected results of donor-funded projects, by analysing them retrospectively during reviews and assessments. Action Learning allows individuals or teams to identify and solve issues as they arise and to learn from relevant challenges encountered by colleagues.


Translating learning into action 

In action learning sessions, participants commit to implementing agreed actions prior to the next meeting, in which they will reflect on the results and decide if more or different actions are required. They can make a short note of these actions in simple Learning Logs.


Strengthening teams 

Action learning can strengthen teamwork and the collaboration among peers as it entails small groups exploring together an issue that one of them is encountering. Everyone in the group is responsible for asking questions and supporting the topic holder to find a useful action to take.

Learning culture 

Implementing action learning can stimulate reflection and learning characteristics within individuals that take part. However, for action learning processes to be most effective, participants require the time and support from their organisation to engage in learning. For a culture of reflection and learning to grow in an organisation, it is also important that the interest in learning to improve humanitarian response, and the uptake of such learning resources, is not siloed in MEAL teams but is shared more widely. 

As with many learning resources, our Action Learning for Frontline Humanitarians resource pack will likely have most impact on response outcomes within organisations with a supportive learning environment. 

This blog was shaped by the experiences of the following frontline practitioners who piloted our Action Learning for Frontline Humanitarians resource pack: Mohamed Haibe (​​MEAL Coordinator for Oxfam Somalia), Sundus Ahmad Alsmadi (former MEAL Manager for Solidarités International) and Yoann (former MEAL Coordinator for Solidarités in Syria). Although quotes in this piece are reflective of their experience, they have requested that we don't attribute them.