The change laboratory in medical education: Two examples of tackling contradictory challenges

Mads Skipper*, Susanne Backman Nøhr, Yrjö Engeström

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Medical education and workplace learning is bound to develop through tensions between providing high quality patient care and providing training of the future specialist healthcare workforce. This paper on the Change Laboratory and the theoretical framework supporting it, shows examples on how to explore inherent and contradictory tensions in medical education and healthcare and use them as a driving force for change. We argue that the traditional tools and theories for change and fixing tensions are inadequate and therefore suggest an alternative strategy found in Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and the Change Laboratory method. Methods: The Change Laboratory intervention method builds on the theoretical framework of CHAT and specifically the theory of expansive learning. The Change Laboratory intervention method uses well-defined steps for participants in collaboration with researchers/facilitators to co-construct and develop new ways of going about their work practice. Results: Drawing on our own research on implementing the Change Laboratory intervention method we present two case examples of interventions in respectively a Finnish surgical unit and a Danish paediatric outpatient clinic. Conclusions: The Change Laboratory intervention offers ways to systematically leverage tensions in medical education and thus could be effective in developing and designing organisational and professional change. It is not a quick fix solution as participators must be motivated and engaged in uncovering inherent contradictions in their activity systems (workplace) and get familiar with the concepts and theory underlying the intervention and its procedures. Profound knowledge and transformative agency emerges when participants and facilitators/researchers are given the time and opportunity to analyse both historical practice, current data on practice, and organisational issues collaboratively in order to envision and redesign their practice and learning environment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMedical Education
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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