man looking at plans

Using a learning culture to build back better

By Olivia Eyimofe Race 31 July 2020 4 minute read

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve all had to adapt our services and try new things—learning a lot in the process. In essence, this is what building an organisational learning culture is all about.

As we start to look beyond the initial crisis, how can charities keep this momentum up, and continue to develop this sort of culture beyond the crisis?

Improving your ongoing reflection

Understanding your organisation’s areas of strength or weakness will help you to build back better. Ongoing reflection is an important part of developing a learning culture within your charity. Though for many organisations the idea of practising regular internal reflection feels like a distant priority, particularly behind their current daily challenges. There are though many methods of practising it.

For example, Dave Salisbury, has developed this self-assessment tool (image below) which describes some of the ways an organisation may engage with ongoing reflection. Ranging from chaotic to pervasive, this tool helps you to recognise how your organisation operates. There is no one approach to reflection, the crucial thing is that you take the time out from your regular activities to focus on it.

Dave Salisbury's self-assessment tool

The beginnings of a learning culture

After some reflection, your organisation should have a better understanding of what you can do better, and you can start to develop a plan for how you will introduce new approaches to the ways you work. Before you’re able to take action to implement these changes, it’s of course important to self-assess your available capacity, resources, knowledge and skills. Measuring Up! from Inspiring Impact is a great tool to use as part of this process.

Once you have done that, you can implement your new approaches. Then crucially, you must review how successful these approaches are, and look to embed what does work for you and learn from what has not worked for your organisation from this adaptation. This is the beginnings of a learning culture.

Improving your learning culture and building back better

Now you know where you stand when it comes to reflection, we can move on. Our Understanding Impact guide contains a closer look at the steps you should take. These five tips are an excellent starting point for any organisation:

  • Communicate your learning questions internally. A learning question should be open-ended, framing your goals, challenges, or curiosities in a way that provides scope for full and meaningful inquiry. Communicating them helps promote the importance of these questions, and allows any misconceptions or misapprehensions to be addressed. You could also include beneficiaries and other stakeholders in this sharing, ensuring that everyone is on the same page before moving forward.
  • Define clear roles and responsibilities for knowledge creation and learning. At all levels of the organisation, everyone has a role to play, and everyone should be aware of what theirs is—from capturing feedback from users to analysing insight for future decision-making.
  • Assign internal champions to promote knowledge and learning. This can help engage more reluctant members of your team and means others know who they can go to for help. As mentioned above, don’t expect them to single-handedly establish a learning culture. Champions should be used to support development, rather than the other way around. Identify areas of energy within your organisation, where there is organic enthusiasm and buy-in. Then start developing your learning culture from those areas.
  • Incentivise your staff to use data. Internally, make sure your data is being shared in an iterative way, which shows whether progress is being made. As a rule of thumb, people should always see the results from the data they’ve been involved in collecting and encourage staff to learn from this data.
  • Learn from your mistakes and don’t fear failure. This is the trickiest of the bunch. Reframing the way you see failure can be crucial to developing a culture which focuses positively on improvement rather than negatively on failure. Small things, like discussing what didn’t go so well last week as well as what you achieved, can slowly chip away at a fear of failure, and encourage your team to discuss it—and learn from it—more regularly.

From Covid-19 response to recovery

Throughout the pandemic, organisations have been making quick decisions and adapting based on the available evidence and insights. As organisations begin to transition away from rapid response towards the Covid-19 recovery phase, they need to ensure they reflect and learn from the response period. They should be looking at the ways they can continue to develop and improve their organisation’s learning culture. Taking the time to have those conversations now will enable organisations to have more success in introducing and embedding the effective learning practices that help an organisation to continually improve and make effective decisions. Above all, while quick wins are useful for demonstrating value, creating a learning culture will benefit your organisation well beyond this crisis.

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve all had to adapt our services and try new things. How can charities continue to develop a learning culture beyond the crisis? Click To Tweet