Create a learning environment: organized learning in day-to-day project life

In order to be able to learn effectively from the impact analysis, you’ll need more than just data – you’ll also need an environment that promotes learning.

This includes:

  • Motivated project leaders
  • Resources
  • A culture that supports learning and tolerates failure
  • Clear tasks and responsibilities
  • A knowledge-management system
  • A transparent means of handling information
  • An ongoing task ...

    Learning is not a one-time or a point-to-point event. Learning is a dynamic process that takes place throughout the entire project cycle.

A learning-friendly environment is characterized by the creation of incentives for learning, as well as easily accessible information. Project managers must therefore make the necessary resources available – this being first and foremost the time employees need to engage in reflection together.

However, learning also produces material expenses, for example if a knowledge-management system is to be constructed, or external experts are called in.

The learning culture should also go hand in hand with a culture that tolerates failure. This means that failures and weaknesses are accepted, with the goal of learning from them and improving. In many organizations, failure simply isn’t talked about. However, this attitude is already a failure in itself.


Employees must feel that they are encouraged to engage in discussion, and that they are able to speak openly. If failures are used only to find and punish those responsible, open exchange will be all but impossible. In such cases, employees will perceive impact analyses as being no more than instruments of control.

Another component that encourages learning is an organizational structure which offers defined roles and responsibilities:

  • Who collects needed information?
  • Who works with the data later on?
  • Who is responsible for sharing the results of the data analysis internally?

Documenting this is especially important in non-profit organizations with many employees and volunteers who are not always present, or in organizations with high employee fluctuation.

To ensure that learning outcomes remain available to the organization in the long term, knowledge management will help make sure information is collected and accessed. Knowledge management can be implemented by simple means.


  • Knowledge management in non-profitprofit organizations

    This issue goes beyond the scope of our efforts here. However,

    the following websites and publications represent a good introduction:

    • McNabb (2015): Knowledge Management in the Public Sector: A Blueprint for Innovation in Public Sector
    • Nonaka/Takeuchi (1995): The knowledge creating company

Learning organizations are also characterized by a high degree of transparency – that is, all relevant information, processes, services and results are made accessible both to employees and external stakeholders.

While more on this can be found in the “Stories for good” section, we’ll say this much here: Transparency promotes learning and, at the same time, helps legitimize your work, as it makes clear what you’ve achieved and where funds have been applied.


Do you work in a learning organization?

The following aspects offer a quick overview of the degree to which your organization is a learning organization (download our checklist "Learning Organization" here).

The organization or project leadership makes sure that learning is a consistent feature of daily project life. It provides for the necessary conditions, offers incentives and ensures that learning-focused activities are carried out.

  • You take the time as a team to reflect on your work. There are regular, mandatory meetings, for which an agenda is produced in advance.
  • There are clearly defined responsibilities and processes for recording results and sharing knowledge.
  • The findings are swiftly acted upon, rather than falling off the bottom of a to-do list. Those at the leadership level push for changes and pay close attention to their implementation.
  • You learn from failures. The organization works constructively and in a forward-looking way; issues of blame and responsibility are given a low priority, and are addressed only on the factual level.
  • You seek feedback from partners – ideally in an anonymous format, as that increases the probability that you will receive a significant volume of honest responses.
  • Don’t forget: As important as learning from failures is, it’s just as important to celebrate your joint achievements! Milestones reached and goals attained are always good occasions for this.
  • A culture of learning at YEA

    YEA started as a small project in which everybody knew everything. As the number of mentors and mentor-group support staff has risen, that has now changed.

    The executive board thus decides to organize regular workshops in which those involved can share their knowledge. At the same time, it assigns a staff member responsibility for overseeing this transfer of know-how. This person makes sure that meeting minutes, documents and decisions are stored on the intranet, and regularly sends informational emails to all employees.

    The mentors are encouraged to report even on failures, and to discuss these in the groups. At the beginning of the meetings, everyone briefly explains what’s on their mind. Topics include: “I was particularly pleased by this / This worked out particularly well” as well as “I was concerned about … / This didn’t work / Here we ran into problems / A challenge for me is...” This process creates a culture of learning from and with each other.