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

OL-ECB TIG Week: Why is Organizational Learning Relevant for Evaluation Today? By Dr. Cynthia Phillips and Courtney Long

Hi, we are Dr. Cynthia Phillips with Decision Catalyst, LLC and Courtney Long from UPMC HealthPlan. We both work in spaces that require us to make connections, put the focus on learning, and think out-side-the-box about evaluation. We are excited about this week of AEA365, where the Organizational Learning and Evaluation Capacity Building (OL-ECB) TIG will focus on organizational learning!

Sometimes everyone needs a little writing inspiration. One technique we use is doing a Google search that starts with “why” and see what pops up. So naturally, when starting to think about writing the opening blog for this week, we started with…“Why is organizational learning relevant today?” We got over 3 million hits! Seems like a lot of people are talking about organizational learning. But when we followed with “Why is organizational learning relevant for evaluation today?” We got only 221 thousand hits. Why might that be? We’d like you to pause for a moment and consider this.

In this week’s posts, you will hear from fellow evaluators about their experiences and perspectives about organizational learning in the context of evaluation. Our hope is that by the end of the week you gain inspiration and shape your own answer to our second question, “Why is organizational learning relevant for evaluation today?”

We’d like to start you on your journey by first briefly unpacking organizational learning. At its simplest, organizational learning is the organizational act of generating, curating, and leveraging knowledge to improve overtime. One of our first exposures to organizational learning was in a 1993 Harvard Business Review, where David Garvin describes that organizational learning was perceived as a “silver bullet” for achieving continuous improvement. Garvin disabuses that notion and tells us that successful organizational learning includes five activities: 1) systematic problem-solving, 2) experimentation with new approaches, 3) learning from past experiences, 4) learning from the best practices of others, and 5) transferring knowledge quickly and efficiently throughout the organization. How many of these activities are things you try to support through your work with the organizations, programs, and people you serve?

Preskill and Torres (2001) were among the early champions of organization learning from within the evaluation community, promoting a learning-oriented approach to evaluation that is “contextually-sensitive, ongoing, and supports dialog, reflection and decision making” at multiple organizational levels. Preskill and Boyle (2008) developed a multidisciplinary model of evaluation capacity building that provides a big picture view of the components necessary for organizational learning and evaluation capacity building.

Connecting this model to our simple definition of organizational learning, we see that generating and curating knowledge are represented with evaluation knowledge, skills, and attitudes AND sustainable evaluation practices. While leveraging knowledge is dependent on the interplay between the two AND the organizational context it occurs. How might your evaluations or the work with the organizations, programs, and people you serve get exponentially better if the transfer and diffusion of knowledge was unlocked?

These articles leave us with two thoughts: 1) Engaging in organizational learning is hard! It is complex and often requires shifts in paradigms, culture, structures, workforce skills, the role of the evaluator, and TIME; 2) It’s worth it! As you read this week’s posts, we hope you not only find your answer to “Why is organizational learning relevant for evaluation today?” But also are able to join us in our hands in the air agreement of Preskill and Boyle’s concluding stance that OL-ECB has the potential to transform the field of evaluation and have a “stronger position to influence the development of more effective and humane organizations as well as a more just and healthy society.”

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.