Foundation Readiness for Community Transformation: Learning in Real Time

  • This article describes the internal structures and processes adopted by The Skillman Foundation to support the iterative practice of “learning and doing” in the first phase of a rapidly evolving, ambitious community change enterprise in six Detroit neighborhoods.
  • The foundation invested in its own and its partners’ capacity to learn in real time so that together they could adjust and readjust their strategies in response to initial results and, in doing so, deepen their working relationships and build further capacity for effective implementation.
  • Challenges to supporting this learning culture included increased visibility and pressures to produce results and measurable outcomes, significant workload and time constraints for the staff, and difficulties in keeping communications consistent among the foundation staff, board, intermediaries, and grantees.
  • To align its internal structure with its external goals, the foundation changed program officer job descriptions and policies and procedures to allow more flexibility in work hours; created the new positions of Knowledge Management Officer and Special Projects Officer; and used a consent agenda with the board to streamline grantmaking.
  • The foundation created a “learning team” that used a program logic model and other evaluation and learning mechanisms to foster ongoing candid discussion and build capacity to work in new ways. Although it is still a work in progress, logic model thinking is leading to greater clarity about the activities and intended results.

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Grants Management
Organization Learning and Evaluation 
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Organizational Development - Strengthening/Building Your Team

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