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Jan 21, 2020 | Insights

Our Journey to Becoming a Learning Organization: TSNE’s Three Core Principles of Continuous Learning

This is the first part of our blog series about the Learning and Evaluation team’s work. Read the second blog post in this series, The Forever Journey: Centering Equity in Our Learning and Evaluation Work.

Recent political, social, and economic shifts have created tremendous waves of uncertainty that threaten to engulf some nonprofits. During these precarious times, nonprofits must continue to develop and strengthen their organizational learning capacities. Learning is a formidable muscle that empowers nonprofits to stand steadfast in their mission and remain resilient against these tides of uncertainty. At TSNE, we have embarked upon our own journey of expanding and deepening our learning capacities. As we continue our pursuit of becoming a learning organization, we have discovered three core principles that ground our learning efforts.

1: Equity as a Core

Equity is the core principle the fuels our organizational learning vision, strategies, and practices.

TSNE uses jargon-free language that is accessible to everyone, no matter their educational credentials and native language. Borrowing from Mark Freidman’s results-based accountability framework, we use three primary questions to guide our learning:

  • “How much did we do?”,
  • “How well did we do it?”
  • Is anyone better off?”

Additionally, TSNE uses learning practices that allows those most impacted by our work to co-create measures of success, collect diverse types of data, and collectively analyze information. While these practices stand in stark contrast to the traditional nonprofit evaluation orthodoxy of “objectivity” and “expertise,” these collaborative practices empower those at the center of our work to raise themes, identify gaps, and, most importantly, enrich the data with their own perspective.

2: Evaluation is One of Many Tools of Learning

In order to strengthen and advance TSNE’s organizational learning capacities, we first had to free ourselves from the prevalent myth that evaluation is the only tool of learning. TSNE views evaluation as a rigorous evidence-based tool that is used to answer specific questions. In comparison, we believe that learning is much more expansive and draws upon a variety of practices that help us deliver the consistent high quality and impactful services that our constituents deserve. For example, we’ve used data gallery walks, where data is visualized and placed around the room so that staff can reflect on and interpret the information. Throughout our work we’ve used these walks and many other activities to empower us to continuously improve our work.

3: Practices Not Just Products

Although data collection tools, reports, and other tangible products are important pieces of our organizational learning framework, we are committed to strengthening our learning muscle by continuously using a variety of different learning practices. For example, by facilitating regular action learning sessions after executing trainings and events, staff develop their data literacy skills and practice making data-informed decisions that continuously improve programming.

Resources for Equitable Learning

In the coming months, the Learning and Evaluation team will share more information about TSNE’s journey to becoming a learning organization. These blog posts will explore how we’re practicing these core principles in our evolving work, our challenges, and other aspects of our journey.

For more ideas on how your organization can strengthen its formidable learning muscle, please feel free to review the resources listed below.

As the Director of Learning and Evaluation, Nwando Obele leads TSNE’s strategic learning vision that advances the organization’s internal functions and quality of its programs. In her role, Nwando leads the implementation of organization-wide learning practices and works to cultivate a culture of learning that promotes knowledge sharing. Previously, she led data management and evaluation efforts for several national nonprofit direct-service providers. Nwando received her Bachelor of Arts from Mount Holyoke College, and is currently pursuing her Master of Public Policy from Tufts University. Connect with Nwando Obele on LinkedIn.