COVID-19: Why and how organisations can learn now to shape the future
COVID-19 has created a burning platform for change that is requiring local stakeholders to think and act like a system, in ways we could have never before imagined. Things that were previously thought impossible have been achieved in a matter of weeks, as people and organisations pull together united in a new collective purpose, adopt radical new practice, and organise in new ways. As our recent #5days5questions campaign on Twitter highlighted, collaboration within organisations and across partners is moving at pace.
We know that many people and organisations involved in these changes are interested in learning from new practice today in order to sustain change for tomorrow. What should we keep doing once the crisis has passed? What benefits can come from these new ways of working? What will it take to sustain new approaches and relationships?
Why learning is important
Learning is most usefully understood as a continuous process which drives adaptation and improvement. Right now there is a unique chance to understand and consolidate what we are learning from different parts of the system, identifying behaviours and practice that could have lasting benefits and inform future norms.
Key principles that are particularly important in the current context are:
- Learning happens in real time. It’s crucial to capture insights as they happen to identify immediate opportunities to flex and adapt.
- Learning is a process of paying attention to what you do, how you do it, and how it feels. It’s about valuing and acting on the things you and the people you work with notice and experience in your day-to-day work.
- Learning requires an openness to learn both from what is working and what isn’t.
- Learning is a collaborative process. It requires a willingness to learn from other people’s perspectives as well as your own.
- Learning is about action. It requires the creation of spaces where people can bring together what they’re learning and identify how to act on this.
How you can capture and make sense of learning:
- Identify a person or team internally, or an external learning partner, who will coordinate the learning efforts to make it easy for others to gather and share insights as part of their busy roles. This person might introduce the idea of and make the case for learning together, and support the steps outlined below.
- Agree what information you want to collect — what is it important that we record, so that we can collectively learn?
- Agree how you will gather information e.g. journaling, learning logs (what have I learnt today? what patterns have I seen?), using data that already exists for the purposes of learning, interviews, questionnaires, shadowing and observing meetings or calls.
- Identify how you will come together to share and act on learning e.g. team huddles, learning sessions, sharing insights with senior managers and leaders. For example, you might want to create peer reflection sessions where teams reflect together on a weekly basis. What did we do? What happened? What does this mean? Record what you learn, and share it with others — within and outside your organisation.
- Create a learning culture: it is important to create an environment where it is ok to talk about uncertainty and things that aren’t working. Everyone will be feeling uncertain. Everyone will be making mistakes. Reassure people that this is normal and the opportunity is in learning together.
This blog from the Children’s Society shows a great example of an organisation investing in learning in the current environment. This blog from Chris Bolton is a good overview of why learning matters alongside innovation, drawing on Dave Snowdon’s work on Rapid Learning Environments.
To help organisations structure their learning activity, we have designed this free, open-access learning framework for people working in organisations (of any shape, size, form) who are providing support to the public — from local authorities and charities, to community groups and health services. It is intended to be simple and accessible in a time of pressure. We hope it offers an entry point that will assist you, your colleagues, your organisation and the partners you work with to capture insights as they arise from new personal, organisational and community practices.
How Collaborate can help
We know everyone is busy with the day to day, so we’re also offering our support as a learning partner to organisations and systems with a view to supporting longer term change in thinking, culture and practice after the crisis. We can use this framework to carry out rapid system diagnostics with places, including short interviews with stakeholders from across the system to capture insights about the changes that are taking place, what they value and what they want to keep hold of. We will capture these insights in a short report with some questions and recommendations for local partners to discuss further down the line.
When the immediate crisis passes, there will be more space to explore what these insights tell us and how we’d like to use them to shape a ‘new normal’. Collaborate is experienced in supporting organisations in these kinds of conversations and translating innovation and learning into new models of practice. Please get in touch if you would value this offer now as a way to bank insights for the next phase of public service reform and place-based change in your place.
We hope the framework can support you to capture learning in these challenging times (and beyond). We are interested in what you are learning and how you do it, so we encourage you to let us know and tell us about your reflections and how you have used the framework.