LAWG Week: A Culture of Learning by Myron Marshall

Hello evaluators and philanthropists. I’m Myron Marshall, a National Urban Fellow and soon to be MPA graduate. Over the last 9 months I have grown, learning from new experiences. Specifically, I have been introduced to the profession of evaluation and the philanthropic community. Through my fellowship program, I have also experienced a new city, Cleveland.

Rad Resource: The Greater Cleveland area wears a gorgeous Emerald Necklace, a large system of nature preserves that surrounds the city. Exploring the Cleveland’s Metroparks was one of the first things that I did when I arrived to Cleveland to complete a 9 month mentorship assignment at the Cleveland Foundation (TCF) through National Urban Fellows, a program designed to get underrepresented minorities and women into leadership roles within the nonprofit and public sector. During my time at TCF, I’ve experienced the same growth as many of the trees that make up the Emerald Necklace.

TCF is a tremendous asset to the Forest City. Each year, TCF gives between $90 – $100 million to hundreds of nonprofit organizations located within Greater Cleveland to achieve its vison of making Cleveland a great and global American city. To guide its daily interactions and decision making, TCF has established the core values. My capstone, a requirement of the National Urban Fellow’s MPA program, highlights their value of learning, especially it’s factor in driving TCF’s decision making.

Organizations that emphasize learning and properly manage the knowledge gained to influence decision making will excel in this information era. Organizational learning is supported by systematic methods of data collection, knowledge management, and use of evaluation. Evaluation in philanthropy is no longer solely used for accountability purposes, but for learning. As such, funders are structuring time, finances, and staff to accommodate and use evaluation and learning for strategic decision making. The gathering of data and knowledge to support and influence decision making is called strategic learning.

Lessons Learned and another Rad Resource: During my mentorship at TCF, I assessed the Grantmaking department’s readiness to support strategic learning and evaluation. The assessment, appropriately titled the Readiness for Organizational Learning and Evaluation (ROLE), determined that learning from evaluation can be supported and Program is prepared to engage in other kinds of learning practices.

To further test if the Grantmaking department was ready to participate in practices of learning, a focus group was held, providing ROLE data for a collective interpretation by Grantmaking staff. Additionally, I facilitated a learning activity from an FSG guidebook, using the ROLE data to collectively come up with solutions, improving their capacity to support strategic learning. My work has planted the seed for strategic learning capacity to grow.

I believe that if the Cleveland Foundation is to effectively fulfill its mission, to enhance the lives of all residents of Greater Cleveland, now and for generations to come, it must develop, sustain, and support a culture of learning. A culture of learning and supporting strategic learning creates fertile ground for which knowledge can grow and produce fruit of effective grantmaking.

 

We’re looking forward to the fall and the Evaluation 2018 conference all this week with our colleagues in the Local Arrangements Working Group (LAWG). Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to contribute to aea365? Review the contribution guidelines and send your draft post to aea365@eval.org.

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