Introducing the Learning Practice - I. The characteristics of Learning Organizations in Primary Care

Rosemary Kathleen Rushmer, D Kelly, M Lough, JE Wilkinson, Huw Talfryn Oakley Davies

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    52 Citations (Scopus)


    Rationale, aims and objectives This paper is the first of three related papers exploring the ways in which the principles of Learning Organizations (LOs) could be applied in Primary Care settings at the point of service delivery. Here we introduce the notion of the Learning Practice (LP) and outline the characteristics and nature of an LP, exploring cultural and structural factors in detail. Methods Drawing upon both theoretical concepts and empirical research into LOs in health care settings, the format, focus and feasibility of an LP is explored. Results and conclusions Characteristics of LPs include flatter team-based structures that prioritize learning and empowered change, involve staff and are open to suggestions and innovation. Potential benefits include: timely changes in service provision that are realistic, acceptable, sustainable, and owned at practitioner level; smoother interprofessional working; and fast flowing informal communication backed up by records of key decisions to facilitate permanent learning. Critical comment on potential pitfalls and practical difficulties highlights features of the present system that hinder development: tightly defined roles; political behaviours and individual-oriented support systems; plus the ongoing difficulties involved in tolerating errors (whilst people learn). This paper contributes to the wider quality improvement debate in the area in three main ways. First, by locating Government's desires to create health systems capable of learning within the theoretical and empirical evidence on LOs. Second, it suggests what an LP could be like and how its culture and structures might benefit both staff and patients in addition to meeting externally driven reforms and health priorities. Third, it extends the application of LO concepts to the health care sector locating the principles in bottom-up change.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)375-386
    Number of pages12
    JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004


    • innovation
    • learning cultures
    • learning organizations
    • organizational learning
    • primary care
    • the learning practice


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