The world is complex, and change the only constant. Organizations seeking to be relevant must continuously learn and adapt. This message is increasingly common across business, government, and many other areas of human enterprise. It is certainly true for those seeking to promote more responsive and accountable government through grant making. However, too often external funding can force organizations towards rigid and linear projects, with little scope for adaptation and little incentive (or support) to prioritize learning. Given the mixed evidence about the impact of work on transparency and accountability, and continued questions about how to work more effectively, we need to get much better at real learning that informs action, such as:
- Learning about changing contextual factors through ongoing ‘scanning’ and analysis
- Learning about the implementation and outcomes of activities through tight feedback loops
- Iterative reflection and adaptation of organizational strategy and theory of change
- Strengthening culture, capacities and processes for organizational learning
The Transparency and Accountability Initiative (T/AI), with support from the Hewlett Foundation, worked with consultants from INTRAC to explore how grant making is encouraging and undermining learning. Do grant proposals, monitoring and evaluation indicators, and reporting requirements enable real reflection and learning, or do they become box-checking exercises that take time and resources away from real learning? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the report finds evidence of both. Thus, while there is an increasing emphasis on learning by funders, their practices, systems and strategies often limit the possibilities of real learning and adaptation. The good news is that the report also identifies numerous positive innovations by funders who are committed to encouraging learning. These practices need to become the norm.