Welcome to aea365! Please take a moment to review our new community guidelines. Learn More.

OL-ECB TIG Week: Organizational Learning About Values by Albertina Lopez

Dr. Albertina Lopez

Greetings! I am Dr. Albertina Lopez, director at the Center for Evaluation Innovation where we partner with philanthropy on strategy, learning, and evaluation efforts that intend to further racial equity and social justice. Today I’d like to discuss how organizations can truly learn their values through sharing a valuable framework and lessons we have learned through our journey at CEI.

Over the last several years, I have connected with colleagues, both internal and external evaluators, partaking in a process to create or revise their organizational values, or a set of core principles that guide an organization and its culture. Our research on evaluation practice in philanthropy has documented this prominent sector-wide reality too. I hear questions like: What will it take to have a shared understanding of collective values? How can we be better at living our values?

Organizational learning, or the process of change in thought and action that moves forward and backward through individual, group, and organizational levels, provides an instrumental frame that can be used to plan for (and evaluate!) how an organization learns and institutionalizes its values. Below I reflect on how CEI is learning our shared value of racial equity throughout these levels.

Diagram that shows information feeding forward and backward from an individual, group, and organization.

Lessons Learned

Support unique individual learning needs. Regardless of what value an organization is learning, people are likely starting from different places and require a learning plan that suits their unique needs. In our organization, everyone, including people who share a racial identity, started from a unique place in their understanding of race and how it shows up in their work. For example, in 2019, with my organization’s support, I enrolled in a facilitation course focused on racial justice and began to build my skillset around shaping spaces in ways that attend to and advocate for racial equity.

Make space for within and across group learning. Learning within an ingroup (e.g., a team) or across groups (e.g., among teams) enables dialogue, interpretation, and the creation of shared understanding and cognitive maps. In our racial equity work at CEI, we know that people connecting with people who share a racial identity is crucial for feeling validated and growing through discomfort; for example, our people create regular gatherings with those who share their race and join existing spaces. We also know how important it is for people across races to connect and learn so we can see each other’s humanity and the bigger picture of reality. In our recent staff retreat, for instance, we each “storied” about who we are, where we come from, and how we experience the world.

When working to institutionalize learning a value at the organizational level, be collectively clear-eyed about what it looks like in practice. Routines, procedures, and systems create norms in an organization. At CEI, we are collectively discussing and naming three to four behaviors and slippery behaviors for each value, including racial equity. This operationalization of our values can help us see the extent to which we are living our values and informs us about the kinds of skills we might need to develop.

Quote that says, "...organizational values are a crucial shared moral compass that unifies people around what is important, and we can life them if we stay attuned to how organizations learn."

Overall, CEI’s routines, systems, and procedures have enabled and encouraged individual and group learning about racial equity. In turn, we are working to use what we have learned to evolve our norms so that we can continue learning what it means to value racial equity in all that we are and do. I believe that organizational values are a crucial shared moral compass that unifies people around what is important, and we can live them if we stay attuned to how organizations learn.

The American Evaluation Association is hosting Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) Topical Interest Group Week. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our OL-ECB TIG 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@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.