In October, commissioned by Comic Relief, the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) published a report that reviewed evidence to explore two main questions: What and how do other funders learn from their work, and how do they use this learning to improve? And, how do funders encourage and support a focus on ongoing learning in their relationships with grantees?
Driving Continuous Learning as a Grant Maker states that there are the early signs of a significant shift in the UK funding landscape, with learning emerging as a key driver of change in grant-making processes.
The report notes several factors as to why learning is inspiring substantive change to the way funders work and engage with grantees. Firstly, evidence found a willingness from funders to question and reflect upon their approach. Funded organisations are often required to prove their success rather than discuss and learn from things that didn’t go to plan. The report noticed a shift in funders allowing organisations to learn and grow from what would have previously been viewed as a ‘failure’. There was also evidence of grant-makers becoming more explicit about the focus of their learning in relation to the type of funder they are.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning, and you cannot force individuals to learn. However, the report presented some recommendations to help funders, and funded organisations to incorporate space for learning into their processes:
The report considered how evaluation and reporting practices will need to adapt in order to create a space for learning.
The evidence in the report shows that there is a shift among funders from merely ‘purchasing results’ to becoming trusted partners of funded organisations, with the aim of not only helping improve learning within the organisation, but also improve funding practices as a whole. The report notes that much of this is still a work in progress, but the shift signals a possible evolution in future funders decisions, not just in how they choose organisations to fund, but also who they recruit as grant managers and Trustees, and how they present themselves to stakeholders and the public.