study taken from:
Learning Labs - Evaluation of the Pilot Projects
University College Northampton
Birmingham - Linkway
Linkway is the title given to one of three linked
components of the services for adults with learning difficulties provided
by the local authority's Social Services department. It is physically
based in a traditional day care centre notwithstanding that its purpose
and activities have changed in recent years. Historically such centres
provided opportunities for socialising and day care for citizens with
learning difficulties and offers some respite for their carers.
Over recent years the service has evolved from
drop-in day centre provision into the placement of service users in
community based activities. These may be sedentary leisure activities such
as pottery or art classes in an education centre or other activities such
as visits to museums, art galleries and cinemas. Preparation for
employment through FE college courses and a number of community based
enterprises is also part of the remit. Around 30 users, however, continue
to 'drop-in' to the Linkway centre when not engaged in community based
There is a manager and deputy manager and, in total,
around thirty-eight members of staff.
Linkway has thirty-eight service users on its books
and seven members of staff caring for their needs and dealing with
placements. The age range is exceptionally wide from teenagers to users
and carers in their 80's. Over the years little work has been done in
identifying and satisfying the needs of elderly users as, historically,
people with learning difficulties were not expected to live so long, and
there is a continuing need for some traditional forms of day care.
This wide range of provision is threatened in that
the local authority has decided that the day care centre used by Linkway
is to be re-located in October 2001. Users and carers have been assured
that there will continue to be a service at least as good as that
currently in place.
Setting up the learning lab
The service operated a consultation process with
staff, service users and their carers entitled
'Changeover' which was designed to explore and
improve the quality and responsiveness of day care. However, with the
shift in emphasis away from building based day care and a degree of
inertia relating to the Changeover initiative, the manager and deputy
manager were looking for something to restart and accelerate the
consultation process. Having seen an article about learning labs in an
internal staff bulletin, the deputy manager initiated discussions with
local authorityís management development team on how best to respond to
the needs of service users. Those discussions were reported to the weekly
meeting of staff at Linkway and it was agreed to set up a half day
exploratory lab involving all seven frontline staff and managers.
How the learning lab worked
The participants began the first away day by setting
out some ground rules. These included joint ownership of the process and
outcomes, respect for all views, a recognition that the lab should
encourage participation and an acceptance of responsibility for, and the
sharing of, any tasks emerging from the lab.
The first day produced a series of flip charts
listing responses to the various questions raised. These were posted on
the office wall in the centre as a working document to be regularly
consulted in order to measure progress made.
This first half day session was felt to have been a
success and it was agreed to schedule three 'away days', in February, May
The staff decided at their weekly meeting that the
focus for the second session of the lab in May would be the effect on
users of the closure of the centre in October. The third lab in June would
have as its main tasks; the measurement of progress in meeting the users
needs during the transitional period and the consideration of further
action to be taken to ensure user and domestic carer satisfaction
following relocation in October.
Impact on staff
There was an sense of empowerment resulting from the
work of the lab. One member of the team observed that "when
decisions are taken by the council it is difficult for us to do anything
about it but if we can meet as a team, give expression to our views which
are then recorded in some way it helps morale. You can work through
anything if morale is kept up".
Barriers and problems
A major concern for all participants was that of
time. "If labs are to be an ongoing feature we need to have the
staffing that allows us to meet from time to time" observed one
member of the lab. The manager felt that "managers should be given
time and space to develop this process and make learning labs part and
parcel of our everyday work. There is also a need for management training
to raise their awareness of learning labs".
Resistance to labs might also arise from a fear of
change. "People don't like change and could therefore have a negative
attitude to labs if they feel they are going to challenge existing ways of
doing things but if they are involved from the beginning you can overcome
Achievements of the Learning
Most participants were concerned to ensure that the
lab was not a one off initiative and had some continuity: "It's no
good having a learning lab now and another happening in six months with
nothing in between. It needs to be ongoing until solutions are found and
It was a beneficial experience for one member who
said "I've been to lots of meetings in the past and thought 'what a
waste of time' but I came out of this session in a really positive frame
" What was really good about the lab was that
we were encouraged to contribute our knowledge and experience to a problem
we would all have to face" said another.
The information about relocation of the service was
perceived as useful and empowering. "The ability to challenge
management decisions is crucial in ensuring the right decisions are made"
said one member.
Contacts for further information
Birmingham City Council web site
Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council
Last Updated: 05/2002