Phase 1 Tools: Communications

Single vs. Double Loop Learning

One of the biggest challenges in upgrading the competitiveness of value chains is promoting collaboration and even rational discussion among value chain actors who may have never worked together before and probably do not trust each other.

Chris Argyris [1] of Harvard Business School has written extensively on the topic of productive communications, but another tool that OTF has used successfully in its value chain strategy development projects is the concept of single versus double loop learning.

Single vs. Double Loop Learning

Single versus Double Loop Learning

Single versus double loop learning. Context informs mindset, which determines actions. Actions lead to results. In single loop learning, feedback from results informs actions, sending the message of, "do what you've done, but harder." In double loop learning, feedback results inform mindset, sending the message, "think differently to achieve success."


At its simplest level, the guiding principle is to encourage stakeholders to step back and critically analyze their value chain’s current business model and change their mindset about the current mode of competition. Normally when firms or entire value chains make decisions about where to invest and what markets to pursue, they are driven by how to pursue the current strategy to achieve better results. This is single loop learning. The true power of data, and in this case market research, is in enabling firms and entire value chains to engage in double loop learning, or to have data-driven discussions based on market research that is directly relevant to business decisions that need to be made at the firm or institutional, value chain or even national levels.


  1.  “Teaching Smart People How to Learn”, Chris Argyris, HBS Press, 1991.