Action Learning Circle – Methodological Implications

This input discusses theses to the methodology and the results of the Action Learning Circle (ALC) in the German case studies and is based on the experiences of members of KlimaKom eG.

In Germany, ALCs were held at the Transition Haus Bayreuth, the intercultural garden Waldsassen, and the energy association Beng eG. With every initiative a complete ALC was performed. We conceptualized a workshop series according to the steps “planning”, “implementing” and “reflecting” with all the tree initiatives. The ACL does not make any specification to the formats of training units and activities. We attached importance to the needs and the abilities of the member of the initiatives by conceptualizing the workshops.

Through the cooperation in the setting “members of an initiative / group – external moderation”, a situation of “extra-ordinariness” is created, which realises change potentials and creates new scope for action.

The general setting of the ALC is to lead systematic (self-) reflection through EXTERNAL moderation in order to develop and improve the processes, results, interaction of the actors and products. Presenters ask questions such as: What is the background / history of the initiative? What went well? What did not go as well? What connects the members, what are the goals they pursue? What are the current problems and challenges? These questions are not usually addressed, if at all, in the everyday work of the initiatives. In the first part of the ALC, a collective self-assurance is therefore made about the actions and the goals. Attributed meanings can be updated or modified (“We make this and that … but actually we aim to be there…”). The externally moderated situation of the out-of-the-ordinary enables a structured reflection and, on this basis, the “impact” of new paths and the development of new projects. For example, Beng eG worked on a concept for the marketing of the tenant electricity model and the Transition Haus Bayreuth worked on a new sequence model for the meetings of the organisation team. This team set up targeted communication structures under the conditions of fluctuation in the organizational meetings and the introduction of a “state of mind”, which should ensure that feelings, well-being, or the lack thereof, and the general condition in the organization round have their place.

Action Learning Circle increases group-specific collective self-efficacy.

Albert Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy (2008) refers to a person’s conviction that he is capable of learning something or accomplishing a particular task successfully. People who believe in their own strength are more persistent in coping with tasks and can “deal” better with individual challenges and problems than people who are less convinced of their personal resources / resourcefulness. This individual psychological perspective can be applied to the ALC; the collective reflection of what has been achieved in the group can be a source for building collective self-efficacy expectations: “We can do that …”. Also, the thematization of barriers and hurdles, which have been mastered in the past, can provoke new endurance and look for new target agreements. In the continuous reflection in the ALC new motivation arises and the success of the action can be increased.

Action Learning Circle and its results are qualified by elements that appeal to the senses, emotions and practical action.

Within the framework of the kick-off workshop at the intercultural garden Waldsassen, the topic of “intercultural understanding”, or the prevention of misunderstandings due to intercultural differences, emerged as an important topic. An action-oriented training workshop was designed for this purpose. In order to reduce language barriers between refugees and helpers as well as to create a common understanding of intercultural misunderstandings and cultural self-understanding, a green dome was built in an afternoon through participation of everyone, becoming a central community space in the garden. A central learning experience was that communication did not only work through language, but also through doing, interpreting and gesturing a common goal can be reached, so that at the end of the event a Green Dome enriched the garden, allowing for a joint dinner with conversation about the experiences in German, English, French, Arabic (with and without translation). Through these action, a less formal, perhaps more carefree, co-operation could be achieved. This means that not only cognitive and goal-oriented work results in good results, but also that senses and emotions are to be addressed in the context of practical activities. Both in Waldsassen and in the Transition Haus of Bayreuth, it has proven itself to embed the content themes into a convivial external framework such as common food, coffee specialties, and festivities.

Motivation to participate as an initiative in the ALC is enhanced by concrete (immediately realizable) benefits.

In the training phase of the ALC, we have included further external expertise to tackle the current issues of the initiatives and to tap into the knowledge and experience gained at other initiatives / municipalities. These are current marketing questions for Beng eG asked by a representative of a marketing agency. Information on how to proceed with the implementation of a tenant energy through Polarstern and Naturstrom. A green dome was built in the environmental station Waldsassen (see above). In the Transition Haus, a seminar on the subject of “Non-Violent Communication” was held. These actions generate new and relevant knowledge. The ALC can also be seen as a catalyst and initiator for network formation.

Action Learning needs the Circle: time (between sessions) and trust in the process are necessary conditions for success.

The reflection about processes, with the intention to develop new processes, structures, and products, requires time and confidence in the process of the ALC. Since not all members of the initiative were present at all workshops, the results worked on had to be consulted on. In addition, learned and experienced information “needed to settle”. Results are not enforceable. Rather, it requires trust in the ALC’s own logic, which opens up the scope for design, without knowing at the outset which goal you are heading for.

Action Learning Circle not only changes the process sequences / products of the initiatives but also the external accompaniment: from moderation to facilitation.

The ALC represents, inter alia, through the openness of its concrete design, different requirements to the external accompaniment. Fewer competences of moderation come to the forefront with a decided goal. Also, typical classical methods for the moderation of small groups with a strong orientation to previously worked out schedules have only succeeded to a limited extent. The flexibility of the ALC is countered by the diversity of the self-organization initiatives with regard to their structure and internal organization (from the loose grouping to the company) and thus to their different requirements for planning and moderation technology.
This results in a new self-understanding, which is most likely to be described with the concept of a facilitator: a process leader who initiates, accompanies, supports and promotes changes. Facilitators do not suggest anything and continually reflect on their own attitude towards change. Conflicts and the unforeseen should be taken with intuition and composure. The facilitator opens up protected areas where uncertainty, concealment, and visions find their place.

ALC as a suitable tool for developing sustainability-oriented system, target and transformation knowledge.

The pursuit of a sustainable and climate-sensitive post fossil-fuel development path is associated with an extensive societal search process in which science, and especially transformative research, is of great importance. The aim of transformative research is to initiate concrete change processes and thereby actively involve stakeholders in the research process. It is not only about generating system knowledge, but also on the basis of practical knowledge (vision and guiding principles) and concrete transformation knowledge through experiments and learning processes (Wuppertal Institute 2017). The Action Learning Circle can be seen as a methodology within a transformative research. We are working on solving real-world problems:

  • What can building-blocks of a resource-based, community-based lifestyle look like; which (physical and mental) infrastructures are needed? – Through a material infrastructure: workshop, sewing room in Transition Haus
  • What are new business models for energy cooperatives under difficult political-legal conditions (political “slowing down” of the decentralized and civically organized energy supply, for example the so-called 10-H regulation in Bavaria and the obligation to require EE projects)? – Through the tenant electricity model by Beng eG
  • How can refugees be integrated into small municipalities? – Through the practical activity in the garden in the environmental centre Waldsassen

Last but not least: Parts of the entire Action Learning Circles are allowed to fail.

The search for sustainable solutions for the transformation into a climate-sensitive social model will inevitably also be connected with dead-ends, wrong decisions and a failure. Thus, the reflection meeting in Waldsassen “failed” because of a lack of participation. The members of the helper circle were to meet again, after the Green Dome was built, on the next day for a workshop, however, no one came. The fear of an “academic round” was too great. It was only when the head of the environmental station pointed out that we were able to remedy this situation and invited us to an informal coffee session. This openness to failure must also be inherent to the ALC.


Bandura, Albert (2008): Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge.

Wuppertal-Institut (2017): Transformative Forschung. Online: