An instrument of social action: Revans’ learning disabilities project (1969–1972) in a politico-historical context

Cheryl Brook

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    This paper examines a Revans led action learning / action research project in services for people with learning disabilities which took place between 1969 and 1972 across seven local authorities in the UK. It explores aspects of social and political history as the project unfolded, including the notable scandals in hospital and social care which occurred around the time of Revans’ work, starting with the Ely hospital scandal in 1967. The paper identifies some of the lessons from the project and from some of the social history of the period which may prove useful to practitioners engaged in social action work currently. Recommendations from hospital inquiries are often repeated, and many from the 1960s and 1970s included themes which obsessed Revans at the time, such as the need for better communications, inter-disciplinary working and stronger leadership and coordination of services. Key lessons and themes which emerge from his own intervention and from social history include the need to equip staff with the tools of analysis to carry out their own service investigations and evaluations, more honest sharing of ‘chronicles of failure’, and encouraging a climate of openness in which the need to speak out and challenge what is already known and believed is more fully supported.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages13
    JournalAction Learning: Research and Practice
    Early online date9 Sept 2020
    Publication statusEarly online - 9 Sept 2020


    • Action learning
    • Revans
    • social and political history
    • NHS scandals
    • social care
    • learning disabilities


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