by Nancy Carter
“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”– Abigail Adams
“A learning culture is an environment that demonstrates and encourages individual and organizational learning, and where both gaining and sharing knowledge is prioritized, valued, and rewarded. It becomes part of the ecosystem of the organization.”– Centre for Creative Leadership
Inspiring Communities (IC) has long cited a culture of learning and evaluation as core to its work and success. Yet when we try to identify why and how evaluation has come to be so highly valued, it is difficult to pinpoint any one reason. In my opinion, this is perhaps the greatest indicator of a strong culture – it is integrated throughout the organization at all levels and deeply embedded as part of the organizational mindset. The seeds for a deep culture of evaluation were planted by early founders of the organization with foresight and faith that the benefits of fostering such values for IC would be realized. And so, even after significant changes, five years since its inception a strong culture of learning and evaluation continues to play a key role in IC’s development, growth, and evolution.
In 2019, as co-chair for the Canadian Evaluation Society’s annual conference held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, I wrote about the conference theme: Bridges. When you search the word there are a variety of definitions depending on the context in which it is used – much like when you search the term evaluation. So, in 2019 the theme emerged, inspired by its geographic relevance (Halifax- Dartmouth is connected by two bridges) and to inspire attendees to reflect on and share their experiences in evaluation by connecting their presentations and discussions to these three interpretations of the word “bridges,” applied to the context of evaluation:
- bridges that connect
- building bridges
- the view from the ship’s bridge.
At the time I recall wanting to add a fourth interpretation – one that would describe the bridge of one’s nose, but decided three was enough and I would hold on to the other one for a little longer. Little did I know that it would emerge at the conference on its own accord (more about that in a future post! Stay tuned!)
This blog series will apply this metaphor to Inspiring Communities and explore how IC has engaged in many forms of evaluation to navigate the varied and many obstacles encountered in support of creating equity and managing system change. I hope in the weeks ahead to shed some light on how a strong evaluation and learning culture has influenced Inspiring Communities to date, and continues to support the organization’s continued evolution as an equity-centered systems change leader in Atlantic Canada.
The academic part
I will draw on a variety of evaluation concepts and frameworks to develop this series. Some are studies that have been published by researchers, others have emerged from the field through stories shared by evaluation professionals, leaders committed to evaluation, workers in the field and the people and initiatives that benefit from and contribute to comprehensive evaluation.
I know there are many coming together to consider the role of evaluation in supporting and sustaining ecosystems. I am not the originator of this concept; I am lending my voice so that the shared knowledge of many can be heard in as many contexts as possible. I have had the privilege of learning from many sources over the course of my life and could never pinpoint a single source of inspiration for this series. I simply will acknowledge this as a contribution to the whole and humbly give thanks for the opportunity to add my voice to the discourse.
- Next: Bridges that Connect
Nancy Carter is a self-employed evaluation scientist who has worked with Inspiring Communities in developing our new evaluation framework and theory of change.