Action Learning Sets: Leadership in Small Arts Organisations

Lancaster Arts

Lancaster Arts is running a call out for those in leadership roles within small arts organisations to take part in a professional development programme in Action Learning Sets methodology. 

If this resonates with you and you would like to submit an expression of interest to take part, please download the form fill it in and email to by midnight on Monday, 20th of September.

Earlier this year, Lancaster Arts piloted an Action Learning Set for Creative Producers based in the northwest. We were hoping it could be live but given the pandemic, we moved this to an online programme and were surprised to learn how well it went. Here is some feedback from participants: 

“Action Learning offered me space and time to reflect on my practice and share challenges and issues with a group of supportive peers.” 

“It is helping me shape the way I want to move forward. It’s helped me clarify what it is I want to be doing, and working on, and communicate that better to those I work with.” 

You are given time to voice your own fears/problems/issues and the focus is entirely on you working that out in your own time. In that way the thinking and ‘work’ you do on yourself, carries on way beyond the action learning session.” 

More on what action learning can offer you below but as a result of this first set’s enthusiasm and the positive influence on their practice, we have decided to offer more sets this coming autumn.  

Millie Chesters, Action Learning Sets Visual Capture, 2021

Action Learning Sets for people in leadership roles within small arts organisations  

This professional development programme is peer based and Lancaster Arts is committed to offering this opportunity for those in roles that can often be isolated and not able to access professional development as others might, for a variety of reasons; one that would benefit from sharing practice in a safe space with others in the same role.  In 2021, we are hosting 2 Action Learning Sets and one is for people in a leadership position within a small arts organisation, working or based in the North of England. These will be online so there is no need to worry about geography. 

So, what do we mean by a small arts organisation in this context? 

Generally, a small organisation is defined as having fewer than 10 employees/people involved, but can be much smaller. 

Notice that we haven’t specified employees? That’s because we know that many people in the arts, especially those running their own organisation, might be working on a freelance or even voluntary basis. We don’t want to exclude these people.  

You may or may not have a premises, you may or may not subscribe to a particular organisational structure, eg; CIC, Coop, Ltd Company. Unincorporated collectives are welcome to take part as well. 

Any art form is welcome. In fact, the breadth of professional backgrounds in the first set really made for an interesting group. 

You may have existed as an organisation for a few weeks, or a few decades. 

You don’t need to be in receipt of public or regular funding. 

There is a gap in support for those who are happy to stay small and want to do what they do in the best way possible. It can also be difficult to know how to grow in areas with relatively few other organisations to use as models. Some questions we have been thinking about in relation to this are: 

  • What are achievable ethical responsibilities for small organisations with few resources? 
  • How do we communicate our status to the outside world? 
  • What are our strengths and limitations, and how can we communicate these? 
  • What if we want to stop? What are our responsibilities in terms of archiving? 
  • How can we protect ourselves from burnout? 
  • What is necessary for us to keep going, and where can we get it from? 

These are just some areas that this set could cover. You might find that what you want to explore comes out of the sessions themselves, rather than pre-determined. 

If this resonates with you and you would like to submit an expression of interest to take part, please download the form, fill it in and email it to by midnight on Monday 20th of September.

If you would like to submit your expression of interest in another format this can be arranged, get in touch with to discuss.

Please only apply if you think that Action Learning could be of real benefit to you and if so, how and why. If you have further questions not covered here, please get in touch with Jocelyn Cunningham at

In the event of high uptake, we’ll arrange another. 

So, what is action learning? 

Action Learning Sets have been commonly used in the creative sector for many years. They can be an inspiring approach to professional development that offer a small group of peers a structured and reflective way to explore the issues they face. This happens within a trusted group of people with a similar level of responsibility and experience, often doing a similar kind of role.   

Action Learning can make an enormous difference to your work in the following ways through: 

  • Helping you to step outside of your day-to-day pressures, supporting you to reflect and view your work from a fresh perspective. 
  • Having a group of peers supporting you to identify your own creative solutions to take away and act upon. 
  • Giving you the opportunity to develop ideas, see connections and hear about others’ experiences across the region. 
  • Helping you to build networks and partnerships across different parts of the arts sector and beyond. 
  • They help to create circles of trust, the value of which last far longer than the sessions themselves. 

They are facilitated by a trained Action Learning coach. In our case, this is Dee Hennessy. The sets are run with confidential ‘Chatham House’ guidelines. We find that sessions work best with between 8 and 12 people. 

Lancaster Arts would be looking at hosting 6 sessions, finishing with a further reflective and live evaluation.  The sessions would take place via Zoom.  

We will make the Action Learning Sets happen and cover all costs however we ask for a contribution of £50 from each participant and the commitment to attend. 

If you are interested in learning more about Action Learning Sets, have a look at this: 

Posted on 29th Jun, 2021