NPF TIG Week: Lead with Learning by Kelci Price

Hi! I’m Kelci Price, Senior Director of Learning & Evaluation at the Colorado Health Foundation. I used to think learning was an event that happened when evaluation results were ready, but I’ve come to realize that learning is actually at the core of good strategy, and it’s the critical link to whether evaluation actually gets used. We evaluators pay a lot of attention to assessing organizational strategy, and we need to pay just as much attention to creating effective learning practices in our organizations to inform strategy.

Lesson Learned: Implement an effective learning practice.

We wanted a learning approach that would help us assess evidence and connect that to our decisions. It needed to be simple, flexible, accommodate multiple types of evidence, and link insights directly to action. We came across a platform called Emergent Learning, and it has become the indispensable core of our learning practice. Emergent Learning isn’t just a set of tools. It’s a practice that deepens our ability to make thinking visible so that we can more effectively test our thinking and evaluate our results.
Lesson Learned: Start small, stay focused.
Don’t start with a huge plan for learning – focus on smaller learning opportunities to begin with. We started by understanding what strategic decisions staff needed to make in the very near future, and we offered to use our learning practice to help them reflect on past work and assess what might be effective approaches moving forward. They loved it! The most successful learning will happen when you focus on questions that are relevant right now in your organization – these may be related to internal processes, culture, funded programs, or strategies. Approaching learning this way keeps it compelling and relevant to current decisions.

Lesson Learned: Learn deliberately.
The most effective learning takes planning and prioritization. You can start by capitalizing on emergent opportunities, but over time you should move towards being planful about how your organization learns. Know what decisions you want to inform, then work backwards to determine what you need to learn, when, and how you’ll do that. Seek to build learning into organizational practices and routines so it’s not an add-on item. Look for opportunities to change the content of meetings, documents, planning processes, etc. to embed better learning.

Rad Resource: Emergent Learning is an incredibly powerful learning framework, and integrates seamlessly with evaluation practices.

Rad Resource: This paper from Fourth Quadrant Partners overviews learning in foundations, FSG talks about learning and evaluation systems, and this piece gets you thinking about foundation learning as central to strategy under conditions of complexity.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. 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 submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


2 thoughts on “NPF TIG Week: Lead with Learning by Kelci Price”

  1. Hi Kelci,

    Thanks for sharing your comments. I am currently a Master’s student completing a couple of courses in Program Evaluation. Consequently, I have been reviewing many of the posts on AEA 365. Having recently completed a proposal based on Utilization Focused Evaluation your comments about learning throughout the process, which align with this theory, have really resonated with me. In particular your comment, “I used to think learning was an event that happened when evaluation results were ready, but I’ve come to realize that learning is actually at the core of good strategy, and it’s the critical link to whether evaluation actually gets used.” I also appreciated your comment about, “the most effective learning takes planning and prioritization,” and I totally agree. I also wonder, if it is the most effective in practice, or in theory? If we are learning along the way, we recognize that there is value in the ‘teachable moments,’ as they arise in certain situations. Finally, really enjoyed the Emergent Learning website that you shared, it appears to be an incredibly practical framework, I would be interested in hearing more about its implementation in practice.

  2. These tools are so helpful to see, as we are creating new tools at Equal Measure to watch for learning and reflections in our small teams and with our clients. Love the idea of starting small for easy wins until intuition and regular practice take hold.

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