Learning to learn

By Rachel Mwila originally published in the Zambian Governance Foundation August 2018 Newsletter

How do you know you are learning? Should organizations learn? How do organizations learn? These are some thought provoking questions about learning that we were faced with at a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) workshop for the Social Accountability Monitoring (SAM) community recently organized by the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM).


Learning is revolutionary and dynamic thus there is always something to learn. Individuals and organizations should never stop learning as learning allows growth, improvement of quality of work and services. It is important that as organization continue to implement their work learning should also be documented and incorporated. However, why learn? Organizations need to learn more than ever as they confront mounting forces such as intensifying competition, advances in technology and shifts in customer preferences. Peter Senge in the Fifth Discipline wrote, learning organizations are “ organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expensive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together”.


Learning cannot happen independent of implementation thus the need for the creation of a Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) framework. The purpose of having a MEL framework is for knowledge generation, tracking progress, accountability and sharing information. However, this is only possible if organizations ensure that their organization culture and Theories of Change support learning. Management in organizations should also create space for learning; this can be done through having open reflection for all members of staff. MEL must be aligned to the goals of the organization and integrated throughout the entire programming circle with clear divisions of labour. To implement MEL organizations should also ensure that data collected is controlled for quality assurance that ensures accuracy, credibility and supports decision making in the organization. There is need to create the demand for MEL in organizations. This can be done through ensuring that senior management buy into the ideal of MEL and ensure resources are allocated to it. There is also need to ensure that MEL is clearly included in funding proposals to ensure it is allocated resources. Organizations can also create MEL champions who can spearhead and oversee all activities related to MEL and ensure that it is practiced in the organization. Organizations can also create or join learning communities and evaluation associations.


Additionally, for organizations to learn they must be able to document their work and practice good knowledge management. Knowledge Management (KM) focuses on the various management processes that facilitate finding, identifying, capturing, creating, storing, sustaining, applying, sharing and renewing knowledge to improve an organisation’s performance. Organizations need to adopt an adaptive way of thinking and working especially those working in the social accountability sector given that the sector is constantly changing. The adaptive strategies mean responding to change, lessons and adjusting plans/methods in order to be effective. This simply means organizations need to ensure that they are able to document their work so as not to lose sight of where they are coming from and where they wish to be. Actively managing knowledge can help organizations increase their chances of success by facilitating decision-making, building learning environments by making learning routine and stimulating cultural change and innovation.


By proactively implementing KM systems, organizations can rewrite the old saying “change is inevitable, growth is optional” to “change is inevitable, growth is intentional”. (Smith and Lumba, 2008).