Learning how to learn more effectively
Since its January 2018 launch, the TAP Learning Collaborative has aimed to improve collective learning about how civil society organizations (CSOs) can more effectively pursue and achieve goals related to transparency, accountability, and participation (TAP). Along with Twaweza East Africa, Centro de Estudios para la Equidad y Gobernanza en los Sistemas de Salud (CEGSS), and the Center for Law, Justice and Society (Dejusticia), Global Integrity participated as a “learning Hub,” seeking to improve learning within the Collaborative, across participants’ networks, and in the broader TAP field.
What did Global Integrity do in the Learning Collaborative?
One of the Collaborative’s primary aims was for each Hub to strengthen its organizational capacity for monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL), which was a key point of emphasis for Global Integrity. From our theories of change and indicator frameworks to our reflection and learning processes, we used support from the Collaborative to redesign, implement, and adapt our approach to MEL. Some of this support was financial, and some came in the form of a systematic assessment of our existing learning approach, carried out by the Collaborative’s resource organizations MIT Governance Lab (MIT GOV/LAB) and Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI).
As a result of this work over the past two years, Global Integrity now has a stronger learning system and a better set of collectively-owned learning practices in place. Our revamped MEL system provides a platform for collaborative reflection, learning, and action across our four programs and the many projects within those programs. We are learning and adapting more systematically and intentionally and (based on evidence collected thus far in 2019) accelerating progress toward our intended impact, both with respect to the in-country partners with whom we work and in shaping policy and practice on governance and development.
So what did Global Integrity learn, including about learning?
Our experience has demonstrated, perhaps unsurprisingly, that there can be tremendous value in dedicating staff time and resources to designing, implementing, and supporting use of an internal learning system.
Global Integrity’s MEL system and processes—designed with participation from program leads and management and implemented to support reflection and learning throughout the organization—have helped us to do a better job of assessing whether and how we are achieving our intended outcomes, and making course corrections that enable us to be more effective in our work. The intentional, systematic approach to developing and using our MEL system (made possible by the Collaborative resources) has improved the quality of our work with partners and strengthened the cohesion of our internal team.
That said, it has become clear in our organization-wide quarterly reflection and learning sessions that our entire team is not always on the same page regarding how various projects and programs fit together, including with respect to our overarching theory of change. This has affected how individual staff feel their work contributes to Global Integrity’s mission, and limits opportunities for collective learning across projects and teams.
In retrospect, it may have been useful to take an even more participatory approach to the design of our MEL system, working with the entire team when reconsidering our theories of change, identifying strategic boundary partners, and designing indicators against which we collect evidence on a regular basis. A more participatory approach would certainly have been more unwieldy and harder to execute. That said, as an organization of 15 staff members, the benefits of building in more participation at the outset may have helped strengthen the quality of our collective learning and improve our overall organizational health.
Relatedly, we’ve seen the importance of recognizing that effective learning practices—and the systems and processes that aim to support learning practices—are themselves iterative, flexible, and adaptive. Our learning practices and MEL system have evolved substantially over the past two years as we’ve tried out new approaches and processes, learned about their usefulness, and tweaked accordingly.
Moving forward, we will continue leaning into this iterative approach, making sure that we regularly reflect on whether and how we’re learning in ways that support our programmatic work and make timely revisions to our practice, systems, and processes as new challenges, needs, and opportunities arise.
Want to discuss any of the above in more detail? We’d love to hear about how you’re supporting more effective learning and connecting learning to impact at your organization. You can find us on Twitter @globalintegrity.