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Blog: Learning is like any habit; it takes time to adopt it so don’t give up

Patty Lozano-Casal, Inspiring Impact lead for Evaluation Support Scotland, reflects on how Big Lottery Fund applies Principle 8 of The Code of Good Impact Practice: Actively share your impact plans, methods, findings and learning, drawing from her recent two weeks at BIG on a learning exchange with the Policy and Learning Team (find out about what Áine from BIG got up to when she went to ESS in her blog).

What comes to your mind when someone mentions ‘playing the lottery’? (Okay, apart from ‘please, let the winner be me!’, even if you didn’t buy a ticket…). Until I moved to Scotland about 15 years ago I used to think of playing the lottery as a means to get rich despite the fact that, like in the UK, part of national lottery money is used to tackle social issues. Unfortunately, this is not a message that often you hear in Spain. I want to think that had I known the difference that lottery money makes to vulnerable people and communities I’d have played lottery more often in Spain.    

Having worked at ESS for over 5 years I thought I knew quite a bit about what BIG does and the difference it makes to people and communities in the UK; however, as Socrates once said, “you don’t know what you don’t know” – it turns out I only knew the tip of the iceberg!  During my time with the Policy and Learning Team, I helped them reflect on their approach to harnessing and sharing the learning from what they do:

  1. BIG and ESS are ‘learning organisations’ that aim to be catalysts for others – we listen to, learn from, act on and facilitate the things that matter to the people and organisations we work with. ESS champions evaluation, evidence and learning of ‘what works’ to inform practice and influence policy. BIG is open to conversations on how they can best achieve their mission of bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need.
  2. Policy and learning are two sides of the same coin. Policies set out the direction of travel; it is the implementation of those policies (i.e. practice) that changes the life of people and communities (for better but sometimes for worse!).  In order for policies to effectively address real issues for real people we need to listen to and learn from their experiences.
  3. Everyone has a story: ESS supports third sector organisations so they can measure and report on the difference they make and what they learn in the process (positive and negative!) to funders.  Funders like BIG use third sector evidence and learning to inform their grant-making processes to ensure that every penny goes to where’s most needed.
  4. It’s not just about giving out money: Like ESS, BIG understands the importance of community building and supporting local people and groups to think about what they want to do in their community and how they can make that happen; in fact, BIG’s Our Place programme is all about this.
  5. Learning happens at all levels of an organisation: Organisations are made up of people who not only bring different skill sets, knowledge and expertise but engage with stakeholders at different levels and for different reasons.  BIG’s vision is that people should be in the lead in improving their lives and communities.
  6. Organisational learning is key to improving practice but it can be challenging for large organisations like BIG or small organisations like ESS.  Organisational learning requires leadership, time, skills and capacity but also processes that enable learning.
  7. Start small and grow: You don’t have to wait until you finish a programme to harness and share your learning in a lengthy report; instead, share your learning in small bites from the outset.
  8. Horses for courses: People have different learning styles.  Some people prefer to learn from images, others from words; some people prefer to learn in groups, while others prefer to work alone. Think about how your audience is likely to learn and adapt your ‘products’ to their needs. Be creative with your learning.
  9. Paralysed by learning – just do it! Struggling to get started? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Being a ‘learning organisation’ is not something you occasionally do; it’s a life style. You can start by making small changes to your practice, but just make sure you start!

In a nutshell then: All organisations have learning to share, most organisations struggle to make learning visible to others, and most (if not all) organisations are torn between doing work and sharing learning. So what can we do?  Remember that learning is like any habit; it takes time to adopt it. Just don’t give up!

Interested in other principles?  Check out The Code of Good Impact Practice – report and summary!

Want to self-assess your impact practice?  Measuring Up! for small organisations can help.

Struggling to find tools and resources for impact practice?  The Impact Hub can help!

Want to work more closely with Inspiring Impact – Become an Impact Champion!