Experiences of action learning groups for public health sector managers in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Citation: Blanchard CP, Carpenter B. Experiences of action learning groups for public health sector managers in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Rural and Remote Health 12: 2026. (Online) 2012. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au
Introduction:††The World Health Organisation identifies strengthening leadership and management as an essential component in scaling up health services to reach the UNís Millennium Development Goals. There is an identified need for informal, practically based management training programs, such as action learning, which allow trainees to reflect on their own work environment. Action learning, in essence, is learning by sharing real problems with others, as opposed to theoretical classroom learning.Key words: action learning groups, management development, public health sector, qualitative research, South Africa.
Methods:††The objective of this study was to pilot an action learning group program with managers in a rural public health setting and to explore participantsí experience of the program. An eleven-month action learning group program was conducted for public health sector managers in a rural health district in northern KwaZulu-Natal. On conclusion of the action learning group program, a qualitative study using focus group discussions was conducted to explore participantsí experience of the action learning groups and their potential usefulness as a development opportunity.
Results:††Respondentsí commitment to the project was evident from the high attendance at group meetings (average of 95%). On conclusion of the program, all participants had presented a work related problem to their respective groups and all participants had developed an action plan, and provided feedback on their action plan. Ten participants were still actively working on their action plans and seven participants had completed their action plans. The main themes that emerged from the qualitative data were understandings of action learning; elements that enabled the program; perceived benefits; and reported changes over the course of the program. The major benefits reported by participants were enhanced teamwork and collaboration, and providing participants with the skills to apply action learning principles to other challenges in their working lives.
Conclusion:††From the participantsí shared perspectives, although the findings cannot be generalised, this study showed that the use of action learning groups may help managers resolve problems in their institutions, develop managersí skills of working within teams, and provide a vital form of support for managers. Action learning groups may well be a useful method for improving the skills of public health sector managers in rural health settings.
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