The economics of close learning


 A new approach to leadership development: accounting for the 'opportunity cost' of close learning

The timely and situated approach of close learning does not fit easily within the traditional models used to plan and price management development or executive coaching programmes. These usually are based on an initial diagnosis of needs which are addressed by the provider through a fixed series of group workshops, usually covering an agreed agenda and materials, and supported by a specified number of individual coaching sessions. These allow for the cost effective provision of resource within a fixed budget by the provider, and simpler scheduling, recruiting, and monitoring of programme events and activities by the client.

Against these benefits there are however significant shortcomings: such programmes seldom can address the real issues facing the organization, the scheduled nature of the process makes it difficult to take advantage of ongoing learning, and learning transfer into everyday practice remains a significant challenge. These matters are particularly acute in multi-sector partnerships servong local communities, as the nature of the work needs to adapt to the changing requirements of multiple constituencies, altering the performance and development needs of the members

In contrast, the facilitation-oriented close learning process is designed to address the real work challenges of such partnerships, to build on ongoing learning about what works, and to focus particularly on issues involved in local implementation. This open-endedness, flexibility, and real work focus, does however pose different challenges to both client and provider and such programmes need to be created, purchased and resource managed in a different way.

Responsive structure of close learning programmes

In these specially designed programmes there may well be some formal workshops at which participants meet and work on their collective approach to the partnership. There may also be some coaching sessions early on to meet immediate needs. These, however, usually account for a relatively small part of the total facilitation time available within a budget. Instead this time is more likely to be allocated on an 'as needed basis' on a range of issues/activities that demand attention as the partnership evolves and development process adapts accordingly. These include for instance:

• Facilitation of individuals or groups in real work situations, including assistance in preparation for partnership events and post event coaching on what has been learned
• Virtual development activities, either for individuals or groups, supported by forums, boards, blogs, e mails, teleconferencing, and other Web 2.0 facilities 
• Specific knowledge transfer/skill building workshops on emerging topics which may also be supported on-line and by one-to-one coaching sessions as specific needs emerge
• Support of individuals and groups in the use and development of co-creating, co-consulting, networking, placemaking, and other partnership development capabilities.

The identification of these needs, and their delivery is best tackled in the work situation and 'in the moment', or as near to this as possible. A flexible close learning schedule is consequently driven by the nature of the work the partnership is undertaking and the emerging development needs of members. Any initial diagnosis is almost certain to change as the partnership evolves and gets clearer about its role, and members begin to exploit their own resources and skills to the full.

A contingent approach to budgetting

Close learning programmes are best crafted and delivered when relatively little of the total budget and time is committed at the outset to a planned series of events/activities. Though the strategy for the programme and the total budget is based upon clear learning goals and a campaign outline, the delivery needs to be designed and managed in a more flexible way 

So from the start the client, participants, and delivery team take shared responsibility for selecting and co-ordinating events and activities to meet real needs as they emerge driven by the changing opportunities in the partnership - the 'opportunity cost' of conventional programmes. Obviously this demands a much more open, engaging, and intense level of communication between client and provider as they jointly calibrate and guide the programme towards agreed outcomes – which are themselves influenced by the learning about actual performance and development needs as these emerge

Options which can add both complexity and added value include:
• programme participants may include other members of the partnership and stakeholders, in some of the facilitated events that address ‘real work’ and relationship issues. Though this complicates budget and scheduling arrangements, it often acts to strengthen the partnership in real time
• the PIN typically field a core team who are responsible for client relations, continuity, delivery and overall progress of the programme. However we are able to increase the variety in the delivery team and vary the composition over time to suit the diversity and different needs in the partnership. This too complicates budgeting, scheduling, and delivery decisions but can offer an important added dimension to the learning process

New challenges for provider and client

The relationship between client and service provider has several challenges to rise to:
• How to create transparency of time and cost estimates and ongoing actuals between the client and provider teams?
• How to share information on progress, efficacy of initiatives, emerging needs, and availability of resource, on a timely basis enabling dynamic review and ongoing selection of a range of intervention and support options
• How to create flexible and diverse delivery teams capable of working wherever, whenever, and with the range of skills needed, to support the interventions that are emerging
• How to carry out real time evaluation of key activities, using the feedback to calibrate progress and involve client/participants in the ongoing design and development of the programme


The PIN offers a development partnership working arrangement with clients where:

• We work within fixed budgets and agreed learning outcomes to engage with clients in facilitating a range of development activities that creatively respond to the actual situations and development needs faced by participants, as these emerge

• We offer support over a wide range of time periods, in face-to-face, distance, and virtual approaches, and with individuals, small groups, and complex partnerships on the real issues they face

• We organise and deploy a team of diverse resources and skills best suited to helping participants and their colleagues learn and develop whilst doing ‘real work’

• We commit to a final evaluation of our programmes, on the learning experiences, on perceived performance improvements in the workplace, and on outcomes after the programme has been completed

For an example of how we might frame and approach client discussions at the start of an inquiry, see an example proposition to do with managing a transition