Action Learning with an Humanitarian Aid Organisation


This organisation, has some defining characteristics in the medical field. It is made up of people from all corners of the world who share a common purpose: to save the lives and alleviate the suffering of people in danger by delivering medical care where it is needed most. They deliver humanitarian aid projects  from disaster response to long-term medical programmes – which stretch over decades. Sometimes there is an active team in a country when disaster hits at other times teams are deployed within hours with pre prepared disaster kits from their logistics centres and warehouses around the globe. Permanent emergency teams work at their headquarters who can coordinate a response and assess the needs before deploying staff from a pool.

It has a high level of success in the field although has various issues and problems including the transfer of tacit knowledge between projects and the varying priorities of project managers and clinicians when working in the field.  For example, there were often tensions between project managers who liaise across differing stakeholders including politicians and funding bodies and the clinicians whose focus is on high quality emergency and often trauma care to patients


As part of a pilot, it was agreed that all project managers and head clinicians be offered the opportunity of being involved in action learning groups.  We spent three days talking to the head office, project managers and chief clinicians in the field and collecting and understanding issues for action.


In order to get full buy-in from participants, materials and handbooks were developed to reflect the context for each project and professions linking the outcomes to professional standards. This enabled clinicians to claim professional body CPD points.

One purpose of the programme was to promote an awareness of the whole system in which they were working, and initially to include the recipients in the country were projects were based – this was later dropped as it proved logistically challenging to the point of inertia.  The design included forming sets by mixing pairs of staff – manager and clinician, from twelve different projects in different locations in groups of six – i.e. a project manager and clinician from 3 projects in one set.

Each project manager /clinician pair chose a problem their project was facing to bring to the set meeting which was held virtually.   The set focused on one pair’s problem each week before rotating to a new pair’s problem in the following week.

A learning and set diary was to be kept by each participant recording their learning from the questions from fellow participants and taking action on the problem.  On the 7th, 14th , 21st   and 28th meeting the facilitator helped the set draw out the tacit learning gained and the progress of the working relationships between project managers and clinicians