Action Learning

Action Learning is a group approach to problem solving. Action Learning is often used as a personal development tool. It is inclusive, empowering and creates shared understanding.

Using Action Learning methodology for Impact Assessment:

  • Emphasises the importance of approaching an impact assessment as a group.
  • Is a quick and effective way of exploring impacts with people.

The process:

People involved are:

  • The officer: the person responsible for completing the impact assessment or the proposal (such as a head of service). This could be more than one person. They will present the subject matter as ‘an issue’.
  • The group: the people who will explore the issue and feed back on the impacts.
  • The facilitator: the person who will assist the process and keep everyone on track.


  • Identify a facilitator (this could be the involvement manager, equality officer, or someone from the coaching network). The facilitator will explain the process, provide guidance/steer on questions, make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak at the appropriate time, and ensure the session keeps to time and focus.
  • Establish a group of about eight people to ask questions, provide friendly challenge and insight.
  • The group could be made up of staff, service users, members of the Equality Reference Group, other engagement forum members, or others with relevant skills and knowledge. You will want to ensure that each member can take responsibility for providing critical challenge/insight across one or more of the following characteristics (these could be divided between group members):

Age, disability, gender reassignment and gender identity, marriage and civil partnership (for employment issues only), pregnancy/maternity, sex, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity/culture, religion and belief.

Human Rights and other socio-economic characteristics should also be considered such as rurality and low income families.

Further information is available in the DCC online Diversity Guide.

Allow between 30 minutes and one hour per issue.

The sessionĀ 

  • Everyone sits in a circle.
  • The facilitator welcomes and introduces everyone and explains the process and ‘ground rules’ – using this guide (5 minutes). It is good to remind people to allow space (silence) for thought and reflection during this process.
  • The officer presents the issue by describing the service, the proposal and reason for change/review (5-10 minutes depending upon its complexity). They may use visual materials alongside a verbal description.
  • The group then ask the officer questions, taking in turns – passing one at a time under the facilitator’s instruction (10-15 minutes):
    • for clarification
    • to probe deeper and challenge thinking in a non-confrontational way. For example, “have you considered…?” “What do you want to achieve from this proposal…?” “Who is involved and who else could be involved…?” “What information do you have about…?”

The facilitator needs to make sure the group only ask questions and do not make comments.

  • The facilitator asks the officer to reframe or reaffirm the issue again (as it may have changed in light of the questions) and what they want from the group (5 minutes).
  • For the next part of the process the officer does not join the discussion. They could leave the circle and sit where they can hear the discussion of the group but not get involved. They should make notes of the discussion.
  • Group have a discussion about the impacts for each of the protected characteristics (10-20 minutes). They could:
    • Make comments about the pros and cons of the proposal, challenges and opportunities.
    • Ask questions of group members if there are concerns or gaps in the proposal. For example, “how will a Deaf person access the information – can anyone offer insight into best practice?”
    • Refer to real experiences and data/information where possible: Be clear if presenting a fact or assumption/feeling about a community’s need.
    • Explore alternatives that will: enhance positive impacts (advance equality), reduce/eliminate negative impacts and discrimination, and ensure good community relations and prejudice is addressed where necessary.

It’s important that these comments/questions are made within the group and not directed at the officer. The facilitator may invite the officer to answer questions if they feel further clarification is needed, but to keep this to a minimum.

The facilitator could ask questions to ensure all protected characteristics and potential issues/alternatives are covered. The facilitator will invite people to speak one at a time and should make sure everyone has an opportunity to comment without interruption or being rushed, and that the conversation is respectful and empowering. The group should avoid comments like “what they need to do is…”.

This leaves the officer with an understanding of what they need to consider and do, what the impacts are or what further information they need.

  • The officer can then feed back to the group what has been of benefit and what actions they will take forwards (5 minutes).

The benefits of this approach:

  • Non-confrontational.
  • Draws on expertise from a range of people.
  • Encourages people to think with an open and questioning mind.

Ground rules (write on a flipchart):

  • confidentiality (‘stays in the room’).
  • respectful.
  • non-confrontational.
  • empowering.
  • probing.
  • informative.
  • allow people to speak uninterrupted, and give people space for thought and reflection.
  • ask questions only first; make comments later (in the ‘group only’ discussion).
  • keep comments directed within the group.
  • comments can include: pro’s and con’s, challenges and opportunities, information, experience, exploring alternatives, asking questions of others etc.
  • Any other ground rules the group think are important…