A Learning Organisation

Increasing the impact of our work through listening, learning and sharing knowledge

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Across all of our work, Access is focused on its role as a learning organisation. We need to understand what works for charities and social enterprises when it comes to enterprise development and social investment; what we call “leading with the need”.

We will achieve this through listening to the changing needs of charities and social enterprises, extracting as much knowledge as possible from our programmes and those of others, making that knowledge available in a way that is useful for charities and social enterprises, and influencing key actors in the social investment value chain and beyond.

To enable this to happen we need to build the systems and tools to make data about enterprise models which work, and about real social investment deals meaningful for charities and social enterprises.

We need to develop our reputation as a centre of this knowledge but will focus on embedding knowledge in the voices of other partners which will reach well beyond our own networks.

We have identified three parts to this area of our work, which will contribute to answering three questions:

  1. How do we know if our programmes are working?
  2. How do we learn best?
  3. How do we share our learning to shape practice?

1. How do we know if our programmes are working?

To be able to answer this question we will need to continue to work with our partners across social investment and beyond to help build a data “observatory”, which connects and makes useful the data from both our enterprise development and investment activities, as well as over time, building as clear a picture as possible about the business models which best work for charities and social enterprises who are growing or seeking to grow their enterprise activity.
Beyond our own programmes, we are also working with as many other social investors as possible to be able to provide a broad picture of how capital is flowing to charities and social enterprises and the impact to which that capital contributes.
We approach this task of building the systems and tools to make the data more intelligible from the perspective of what charities and social enterprises will find the most useful, adopting user led design processes to underpin this work.

2. How do we best learn?

We believe that we and the sector as a whole will learn best from having conversations. Our approach is to start by listening.
Combining what we hear from those conversations with the data we are able to use and interpret we will then seek to analyse, add meaning, tell the stories and ultimately embed learning. This will involve ensuring that there is active feedback; seeking to check context and patterns in what we are seeing and hearing; attempting to screen out bias, group think and self-interest and other distortions, and test our interpretations; and ensure transparency by openly publishing the data as well as our interpretation so that better analysis can be crowdsourced.

3. How do we share our learning to shape practice?

We will use our unique position to bring together the various stakeholders, from charities and social enterprises, social investors, funders, advisors and support organisations around the lessons which we begin to identify. We want to convene a shared movement across the sector to address shared challenges and to seek common solutions by working in a different way. We will seek to build connections with the voices which are not yet involved.
Beyond the social investment universe, we will also seek to better understand and ground in work in the wider economy and society and find the allies who can help us to bring the learning we help generate to a wider audience. We will build our capacity to advocate for what we see and to seek to inspire more actors to seek to support charities and social enterprises.
To underpin all of our learning activity will collect feedback on the extent to which Access’s learning is heard and acted upon.

One indication of our commitment to learning is that we have appointed the TI Group as a learning partner to work across all of our activities and help us develop improving answers to these questions. We also regularly commission external evaluations of our own work as well as research to help understand the context for our work and the organisations we support.