This article presents a conceptual and empirical synthesis of 'critical action learning' (CAL) and 'policy learning' (PL). We pursue this undertaking by reflecting upon a five-year inquiry into an initiative that aimed to provide business support to an action learning set comprising eight African-Caribbean entrepreneurs. CAL and PL share commitments that are riven with tensions, which we explore in our inquiry in relation to three themes that arose during the course of the investigation. The findings demonstrate how a synthesis of CAL and PL can: enrich CAL by recognizing the centrality of emotional and power relations; provide a vehicle to examine the tensions and dynamics that attend policy implementation; illustrate the merits of an experiential approach to evaluation. We contribute to debates on criticality in action learning and the need for more grounded approaches to the evaluation of initiatives directed at small firms.