Together, we designed and piloted solutions to help the Foundation’s partners build their internal learning capacity. And we learned a few things along the way. In this post, we’re going to bust three common myths that lead organizations to adopt a superficial approach to learning, and offer suggestions on how to take an intentional learning approach instead.

Myth 1: “Our organization is getting stuff done. We’re hitting milestones and launching products and initiatives, therefore we must be learning.”

This myth underscores an inescapable reality in the development space: the tension that exists between chasing ambitious programmatic targets and building effective learning systems. Too little up-front investment in the latter means that when it comes time to reflect on learning, teams spend an excessive amount of time chasing down insights that may be stored in people’s heads or scribbled in their notebooks.

Myth 2: “Having dedicated budget and staff for monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) means we’re a learning-focused organization.”

This misconception will resonate with any organization having worked with a funder that requires a specific budget allocation for MEL activities. The size of the budget line dedicated to MEL is an imperfect measure of the quality of learning activities being implemented. The focus should rather be on time allocation across the organization, because in reality, everyone involved in program implementation — not just the MEL resources — should be investing some portion of their time in learning.

Myth 3: “If we set up the right processes and systems, a learning culture will build itself organically.”

There is no silver bullet to building a learning culture: it takes time and intention.   But a prerequisite for a robust learning culture is leadership that is committed to learning. Leaders set the example of a learning mindset by participating in learning activities, creating space and establishing norms to explore successes and failures, and integrating lessons learned into decision-making processes. Leaders can also establish learning activities as a formal part of the roles and responsibilities of various team members, as well as set incentives and targets for learning activities and outputs.

Read the full article about turning leading into action by Anne Maftei, Kristen Schlott, and Ravi Chhatpar at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.