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briefing paper

Learning in the flow of working

Learning and evaluation in trusts and foundations during Covid-19

March 2021

Ben Cairns, Houda Davis, Liz Firth


Entering 2021 in lockdown with long uncertainty ahead, it is proving hard to hold onto what has been achieved in 2020. But the experience of the last 12 months has shown how lighter, faster learning, and greater comfort about operating with uncertainty, have been energising for many:

‘The emergency has really pushed learning up the agenda – I’ve been having conversations I’ve never had before’.

This briefing draws on the contributions of 19 learning and evaluation staff from 17 foundations who took part in our Community of Practice, and offers our reflections on the questions and opportunities for funders that they raise.

Discussions focused on returning learning to the system, in particular the mechanisms that are set up in foundations to enable learning to flow back to the system to enable action, ‘so that it’s not stuck in one head and everybody can benefit’.

We explored: 
1. How well do they support agility and experimentation?
2. Do they value and make good use of different kinds of learning – both formal and informal?
3. What gets in the way of good learning?

We identified seven considerations for a healthy learning system, and three challenges to overcome.


(Learning in the flow of working - IVAR March 2021 - Final)

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