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Learning with intent: How to pay greater attention to how, why and from whom we learn

In our third blog from our learning in uncertainty series, Nikki Wimborne from Cripplegate Foundation reflects on breaking free from old habits and developing questions to challenge how they work.

Nikki Wimborne is the Programme Manager at the Cripplegate Foundation.


Processing the last 18 months since the UK’s first Covid-19 national lockdown remains an ongoing activity. It’s hard to fathom the lives lost and the very rapid changes to lifestyle everyone has experienced. Yet, in some sense, the uncertainty and chaos has allowed us to break free from old habits and, most importantly, to question and challenge how we work.

 

As a place-based funder, we pride ourselves on proactively building and maintaining relationships with a range of local stakeholders. We spend most of our time in the communities we serve, listening and learning to inform our understanding of the local environment so we can respond and adapt accordingly. An in-person relationship – the key to our whole approach – was tested online, and, there was less opportunity to experience learning and to share this with each other, at least initially. This was intensified by the pressure to capture and make sense of the pandemic and the impact it was having on people – as it was happening.

 

What followed was months of joining forces with others, united under the common purpose of responding to the pandemic, giving rise to a more collective way of working, both internally and externally, within our geographic place and beyond. As a part-time member of staff, I had always been extremely selective about what learning events, workshops, and conversations I joined due to time and workload pressures. With the ability to join remotely, I was able to juggle childcare responsibilities and immerse myself in wider conversations and different networks. It was energising and enlightening, but overwhelming.

 

Data, unheard voices, and innovation were free-flowing, but it was hard to know how best to collate and use all this information, when to zoom in and out of our geographic place, and how and when to learn and share with others without duplicating efforts or losing our focus.

 

As we learn to live with Covid-19 and Cripplegate Foundation embarks on renewing its three-year strategy, it feels important to sustain the impetus and purpose around learning. Whilst we don’t have all the answers on how to do this, we are clearer on the questions we need to ask ourselves to build on and link learning into our strategic framework. What we learn is clearly important, but the questions pay greater attention to how and why we learn and from whom, to improve practice.

 

 

My 10 questions are:

 

  • How do we create a framework for learning within the foundation that all staff can feed into?

     

  • How do we create spaces internally and externally for learning?

     

  • How do we give prominence to informal learning with local people and those that work with them?

     

  • How do we pull together and interpret this learning with strategic intent and purpose?

     

  • How do we present this learning for it to be considered as ‘research’ or ‘evidence’?

     

  • How do we ensure we listen to and learn from a diverse range of people?

     

  • How do we ensure learning is mutually beneficial rather than extractive?

     

  • How and when are we bolder in using our learning to advocate for change?

     

  • How and when is it imperative to work collectively, beyond our geographic place, to have a greater impact on the residents we serve?

     

  • How do we bring our Board on this learning journey when they are not involved in the day-to-day?

     

Perhaps the biggest learning from the pandemic is that responding alone doesn’t feel enough now. There feels like a bigger call to action: to utilise learning to evolve and change so that we can improve people’s lives. Statutory, voluntary, private, and public sector organisations all proved change can happen quickly in a crisis. It seems incongruous not to apply this to those whose everyday life is routinely in crisis, uncertain and unstable.  

 

The Evaluation Roundtable 

If you would like more information on the Evaluation Roundtable, please visit our page.

 

If you are interested in attending sessions, please email houda@ivar.org.uk.

 

Attendance is by invitation only, but we warmly encourage you to get in touch.

Supporting a dynamic learning agenda across City Bridge Trust: Our present, vision and direction

In the second blog from our learning in uncertainty blog series, Donna Buxton from City Bridge Trust (CBT) reflects on how the pandemic has influenced the development of their Impact and Learning Strategy. 

 

Donna Buxton is the joint Head of Impact & Learning at City Bridge Trust, with Ruth Feder.

 


Our journey – where we are now?

 

We work in partnerships with our funded organisations to reduce inequality and grow stronger, more resilient and thriving communities for a London that serves everyone. That is our aim, that remains our focus.

 

Our Bridging Divides strategy (2018-2023), clearly established our roadmap. We have additional assets in our ‘toolbox’: access to strong networks across all sectors and a commitment to social investment.  Our Impact & Learning Strategy outlines our commitment to grow our organisational learning culture, embedding an equitable approach to delivering impact (whilst fostering continuous learning) and ultimately improving our philanthropic solutions and approaches.

 

CBT has also teamed up with a learning partner  Renaisi, a social enterprise which supports us in to develop our learning culture and undertake regular ‘temperature checks’ to measure how effectively we are achieving this. The Impact and Learning team also works closely with our staff who represent a vibrant and dynamic learning community.

 

Our ambition has always been to develop effective feedback loops (internally and externally), either through data we routinely collect or other types of insights we receive from our funded organisations. We want to prove what we do is making a difference but also continually improve our offer to funded organisations and wider stakeholders across London.

 

Our organisational values underpin a progressive, adaptive, collaborative, inclusive, environmentally responsible and representative way of  working.  However, the pandemic presented an unforeseen ‘bump’ in the road. 

 

Where do we want to get to?

 

At this mid-point in our Bridging Divides strategy, we are progressing on our journey towards having a strong learning culture. We are members of various communities of practice including IVAR’s Evaluation Roundtable and Charity Evaluation Working Group (ChEW) – this ensures CBT keeps up to speed with the latest social research and evaluative tools and techniques. This progress has also been been helped by learning from the recovery efforts (at all levels) across London and the concerted ongoing efforts of the whole CBT team.

 

 

But it may be pertinent to view our journey as never ceasing, as we may want to change course and shift gears when required.

 

 

How do we get there?

 

The pandemic has given us much to think about, particularly revisiting where we want to go in this ‘new normal’ environment and how we get there. We’ve taken action over the last 18 months to navigate around difficult terrain, while remaining responsive and delivering at pace to our funded organisations.

 

 

We are excited for the future. We have tried to keep the communication channels between CBT and funded organisations open throughout the pandemic.

 

 

To reduce the burden on funded organisations, we only collected data that we absolutely needed for our legal, accountability and evaluative learning requirements. We also listened to people’s stories so we can ensure decision making is always based on need and grounded in robust evidence. We will continue to adopt this process moving forward, remaining flexible and adaptable.

 

 

As part of our dynamic learning agenda, we are also:

 

  • Developing a ‘Data Strategy’, ensuring we are always equitable in our data monitoring and collection, asking the right questions at the right time, benchmarking ourselves and collaborating on a cross sector ‘data standard’.

     

  • Running a programme of learning activities for colleagues, including regular ‘data digests’, ’lunch and learn‘ sessions and deep dives into key topics, which keep us up to speed on current socio-economic issues across London.

     

  • Developing an external learning programme for and with our funded organisations which will build collaborative relationships and drive effective feedback loops. 

     

  • Revising our theory of change so intended outcomes and impact reflect what Londoners now need from our funding streams. It will also signal to us what the ‘mechanisms of change’ could be (connected to our distinct programmes), our assumptions of what could work (to achieve our aims), and what are the enabling factors.

 

From all of this we can ensure we are in the right gear to provide support.  You never know what is round the corner.

 

About City Bridge Trust: 

 

City Bridge Trust is the funding arm of the charity, Bridge House Estates.

 

Our aim is for London to be a city where all individuals and communities can thrive, especially those experiencing disadvantage and marginalisation.

 

We provide grants totalling around £25m per year.

 

The Evaluation Roundtable

 

If you would like more information on the Evaluation Roundtable, please visit our page.

 

If you are interested in attending sessions, please email houda@ivar.org.uk.

 


Attendance is by invitation only, but we warmly encourage you to get in touch.