Learning to learn in a local authority
: using a critical realist action research approach to explore the learning organisation framework

  • Anne L Hodgson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


The need for an education system able to thrive in the current climate of fast-paced change is widely recognised, but the tools needed to enable us to do so are not as clear. One model with increasing influence in the field of education is the learning organisation but its application has, so far, been limited in its use predominantly as a tool to measure performance and in its application to only one part of the system: schools. This research aimed to apply the learning organisation model introduced to schools in Wales to help a local authority Education Service, a Tier 2 organisation, consider how it can develop systems thinking to enable it to change and learn. Through a critical realist action research methodology colleagues from across the service were engaged in a process of collaborative reflection, with a focus on seeking to understand causal mechanisms that influence our development of learning organisation characteristics.

The research findings indicate that the learning organisation model can be used as a tool to generate reflection and, through engaging colleagues from across our Tier 2 Education Service, afforded us an opportunity to begin to develop systems thinking. Through focussing on causal mechanisms underlying processes of change, participants were able to identify affordances and barriers to our developing the characteristics of a learning organisation, which fell under six main themes: Leadership, Relationships/Ethos, Communication, Processes/Systems, Opportunities and Resources. A deeper, critical realist reflection, bringing together the research data with the theoretical frameworks of complexity and systems theory, focussed on the key concepts of emergence from non-linear connections, leadership and learning to learn. Recommendations for the Education Service emerged from the research, which included improving mechanisms for sharing information and engaging with stakeholders; developing leadership throughout the system and an ethos of leadership that supports learning; and, embedding processes and structures which support the organisation to innovate, take risks and learn from mistakes.
Date of Award21 Jan 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorLeon P Tikly (Supervisor)


  • Leadership
  • Learning Organisation
  • Wales
  • Critical Realism
  • Action Research
  • Education reform
  • systems thinking
  • complexity theory
  • Schools as Learning Organisations
  • local authority
  • Education Service
  • change

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