Organisational learning

John Gray says evaluations of projects or services should look at ways to improve learning

Why do you evaluate projects or services? To demonstrate your accountability? For fundraising purposes? Or to promote organisational learning?

Most managers would probably point to the first two reasons. Evaluations are usually carried out to prove money has been well spent or seek evidence of success. But what about evaluating what you have learned from a project and applying it to help your organisation grow?

Organisational learning is a field of theory and practice well established in international development NGOs and in the private sector, but curiously absent in most third sector organisations in the UK.

All managers will have service development and improvement in mind, but few will be thinking about organisational learning in a formal sense.

As well as generating evidence about specific projects or programmes, organisational learning evaluations develop the capacity of organisations to continue their own learning into the future.

Managers might plan an evaluation for learning if there are particularly sensitive issues under review, to support a new team or project, or to promote a culture of learning in their organisation.

An evaluation should focus on methods and tools that enhance communication, build capacity, transfer evaluative skills and nurture a reflective culture. An evaluation for learning does not put pressure on the organisation to prove that resources have been well spent. The intention is to leave the organisation better able to monitor itself and reflect and evaluate on its own experience.

Organisations and teams that learn for themselves are more effective and more open to change. This is a valuable capacity, not least in helping prepare organisations for the uncertain future we face.

- John Gray is a member of Framework, a network of consultants working in the not-for-profit sector

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