How to capture and share learning

How to capture and share learning

Depending on what’s involved, the process for gathering useful learning can get called ‘research’, ‘evaluation’ or ‘reflection’, for example. Whatever you call it, the basic steps for gathering learning that’s useful to you are the same.

1. How to get started

Plan time for regular reflection
It can be easy for learning to slip to the bottom of your ‘to do’ list when you’re busy delivering your project and keeping your organisation running smoothly. You might be tempted to wait until you have more experience or ‘better’ evidence. But if you do this, you could miss useful learning that would help you improve your approach.

Planning time for regular reflection and making a commitment to learn as you go helps to make learning just as much a part of your project as the activities you deliver.

This can make a real difference to the way you work in the short term. And over time, it can lead to a culture where you, and the people you work with, feel more confident to share openly and work together to improve.

Decide what you want to learn about
Start by deciding on some areas you want to learn about so it’s manageable. You can’t tackle everything at once.

You should always talk to the people involved in your project to help you decide what learning to focus on.

Here are some examples of things you might want to focus on:

  • finding out what’s already known about the issue or community you plan to work with, and how your work can build on that
  • something very practical, like how to recruit and retain volunteers, when and where to offer your activities, or how to work with a more diverse group of people

  • finding out if your services are working well

  • understanding what the people you support think about your work

  • collecting stories and evidence about the difference you are helping to make

  • finding out what else you could do for your community.

You might also want to talk to other projects doing similar work
Their tips and advice can help you get started, and possibly learn from any mistakes they made. You could search GrantNav to find examples of other projects doing similar work to you and arrange a conversation, visit, or meeting to pool your knowledge.

Think about what works best for you
It’s ok to start small, and then do more as you feel more experienced and confident.

2. How to involve other people in your learning

Once you’ve figured out what learning you’ll focus on, you should think about who should be involved. It’s up to you to involve who you think is best for your learning. But here are some of the kinds of people you might like to involve:

  • staff
  • volunteers
  • people who use your services
  • people from your community
  • your project partners
  • other organisations doing similar work
  • commissioners
  • funders
  • your local authority.

There are lots of ways other people can be involved in learning. They could:

  • suggest topics that matter to them
  • come up with ideas about how to gather information
  • give their thoughts on your project, and help gather other people’s thoughts
  • help make sense of the information gathered
  • give ideas for how things could be improved, based on the learning
  • tell other people about what’s been learned and what could be done next.

3. Techniques you can use to gather learning

Lots of learning techniques are really simple. Here are some examples to get you thinking about what you could try. You might want to:

  • set aside a regular time to reflect

  • find peers to meet with regularly and discuss your learning

  • make a commitment to sharing your progress as you go – like writing a blog, keeping a journal, or using social media or videos

  • think about the information you, or others, already have that might help

  • ask for a range of perspectives from different people

  • capture and use statistics

  • use individual stories from people working with your project.

Before you start, think about your audience
Make sure you gather your learning in a way that they’ll like, engage with and understand. For example, using social media videos isn’t appropriate if you’re working with people who have limited access to technology.

Remember that funders, commissioners and decision-makers will want more robust methods, especially if you work in the health and social care sector.

You can test specific learning techniques like:

  • Action Learning Sets, where you come together with others to tackle a specific challenge in a structured way

  • After Action Reviews, when you want to capture learning on a specific activity you’ve run and what you’d do differently if you did it again.

The NHS offers a free knowledge management toolkit with lots of examples of tools you can try. You don’t have to be a health organisation to use it.

You can even commit to making continuous improvement by undertaking accredited quality standards like Customer Service Excellence, Investors in People, Investors in Diversity for Small Charities or others. But these usually look for a significant investment of time and money.

4. Make sure any research you might want to do is ethical to participants

If you want to do some research as part of your learning, plan how you'll protect everyone’s rights and interests, and their data.

You can find out more about kind and ethical research on our step-by-step guide to generating evidence.

5. How to use and share your learning

It’s really important to put what you’ve learned into practice. You might want to make some changes to your project or organisation. Or you might want to influence others outside of your organisation.

You should always share your learning and insights with:

  • the people who use your services

  • staff and volunteers within your organisation

  • your partners.

Remember to show clearly what you’ve changed or done differently as a result. Otherwise you may find it harder to engage people in the future.

You might also want to share what you’ve learned with:

  • other organisations doing similar work, to inform what they do and how they do it

  • local or national decision makers.

  • funders.

  • commissioners, or

  • the general public.

Tell us what you’re learning too
We might be able to share what you’ve learned in our evidence library, publications and at events. This could give you a national platform for your work. And we will share your findings with our staff to help our decision-making too.

6. Some learning ideas and inspiration from other projects

Using social media to share your learning
You could use social media to show how funding has made your work possible, what difference it’s made, and what you’ve learned from it. Use data and case studies from people in your community when you can, and quotes, photos, and films to bring your stories alive.

Using blogs, videos or podcasts
You could keep a blog, produce short and simple videos, or create podcasts to share experiences from your work.

Using reports to share and gather learning
You might want to use different formats for different audiences. Like evidence briefings or impact reports for decision-makers, and practical handbooks for frontline workers.

Write reports in normal everyday language
Keep them accessible by not using any jargon or acronyms that people might not understand. It really helps if you cover:

  • who you work with

  • where you work

  • what services you offer

  • when and how these are delivered

  • why you work in this way

  • and don’t forget to answer - So what? Show the difference you make with numbers, quotes and stories.

You can make your learning tangible and actionable by coming up with specific conclusions and recommendations.

Talking about the impact of your work in an engaging way
Y Dref Werdd, a small environmental social enterprise in Blaenau-Ffestiniog, talk about the impact of their work in an engaging way. They show their achievements and positive environmental impact in a way that everyone can understand. These are then shared using their social media, website and films.

The Reader, who work across the UK running volunteer-led reading sessions, also talk about the difference their work has made in clear, accessible ways.

Bringing people together
You could share your learning at conferences or organise events. These bring people together to share, learn and debate. In this way decision-makers learn from charities, and charities learn from one another.

Opportunity Nottingham works with people facing multiple disadvantage. They’re really good at bringing lots of different people together to take stock of their learning on an ongoing basis. They publish what they’ve learned and share with the local and regional decision makers and delivery agencies. They’ve also set up a peer learning group, bringing together people with lived experience, charities and public agencies.

Try to share what’s not gone well with a wide audience too
It’s tempting to talk about and share what’s gone well, but often the best learning comes when things don’t go as planned. Sharing what hasn’t worked can build trust between staff, volunteers, participants and partners. Having the confidence and courage to share it can help others to avoid same pitfalls. 

Middlesbrough Environment City, a charity promoting healthy and sustainable living, encourages people and organisations to join the movement because they want to learn, share, develop and work for the common good. They always make time to talk about what’s worked, what hasn’t, and why. This has helped to improve practice across the board and connect like-minded organisations. 

Using a mix of data with real life stories
Leap Confronting Conflict, a young people’s charity in London, combines monitoring and evaluation data with stories of young people. They use this to bring people together to debate and inform policy and practice around conflict management.