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Building Blocks of Learning Organizations (Event Resources)

Engineers Without Borders Canada
Institutional Sponsor: 
United States Agency for International Development
Publication date: 
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On September 17, 2013, Microlinks and Tetra Tech sponsored a special presentation by Amir Allana (Engineers Without Borders Canada) to speak about the building blocks of learning organizations and how to enable flexible, adaptive development programming.

Projects trying to create systemic change—whether in markets, public health, or governance—have a notoriously difficult task: to shift mindsets, behaviours, and institutions in incredibly complex systems. Social, political, and business norms are continually changing, and often invisible until acted upon. This requires programs to remain outcome-oriented, to learn quickly, and continually adjust interventions in response to new, unexpected insight. While the external impact of successful projects is often talked about, the internal structures and processes that enabled such projects to succeed are seldom highlighted.

Drawing on EWB's partnerships with numerous successful market facilitation projects, this talk explored the common elements of learning organizations and the following questions:

  • How can learning, flexibility, and agility be managed for?
  • What specifically can be done to foster teams that are sharing relevant information, taking ownership over the outcomes of the program, and innovating to achieve them?
  • What are some of the hard processes (i.e., reporting structures and time carved out for reflection and learning) that enable effective learning?
  • What are some of the softer elements (i.e., management messaging and role modelling, tone and feel of an office) that enable it?

While this talk was primarily based on experience from market-based programming, the lessons shared on building learning organizations are widely applicable. The need for teams that can collaborate, learn, and adapt is one that cuts across all sectors.