Action learning as a practice: A case study of compassion in action


The need for compassion – broadly defined as noticing suffering, feeling empathetic concern, and taking action – is emerging as a crucial issue for 21st-century workplaces and organizations (Seppälä et al., 2017). This paper presents a case study of an action learning initiative that was designed to put compassion into action in a UK higher education organization. Action learning involves a small group working on real problems from practice, taking action, and learning as individuals, team/group and organization. This way of working has been part of the work and organizational psychology practitioner toolkit since its inception by Reg Revans in the 1940s (Pedler, 2021). This case study demonstrates Revans’ (2011) practical approach to integrating action learning into every-day situations and enhancing the practical and professional skills of the workforce, which in this instance focuses upon compassion in action. The paper also illustrates the role of work and organizational psychologists as ‘third space’ practitioners (Whitchurch, 2013) in the professional field of organizational development. It demonstrates how collaborative academic-practitioner relationships and learning enabled the practice of compassion in action through creation of shared stories of self-compassion (Nowlan, 2021). It also emphasises critical action learning to illustrate practical application and use of systems-psychodynamics thinking, and the unconscious processes that play out within and between groups and individuals at work (Obholzer & Roberts, 2019). The paper highlights the importance of reflective supervision in action learning, which in this case study used the innovative concept of social dreaming (Archer, 2021).


action learning, compassion, academic-practitioner collaboration, unconscious processes, social dreaming

How to Cite

Waddington, K., Nowlan, J. & Kaplan, Y., (2021) “Action learning as a practice: A case study of compassion in action”, EWOP in Practice 15(3), 243–267. doi:







Kathryn Waddington (City University London)
Jenni Nowlan (University of Westminster)
Yusuf Kaplan (University of Westminster)



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