Introducing: Aligned Measurement & Learning

What if measurement, learning and evaluation (MLE) were highly responsive to what the program and organization needed to know?  If it honored the strategic plan and evolved with learning needs, but was not onerous to staff? And it organized data and analysis in a way that was readily accessible to colleagues, leadership and stakeholders? We believe this is possible. We’re calling it “Aligned MLE.

Here’s what I know about impact from my work with social change organizations: Everyone wants to maximize the results they achieve. They want to learn “what works” and use that information to innovate. They want to clearly report their impact to funders and other supporters.

But organizations are challenged to do this. These are three issues I’ve heard from clients recently.

  • New leaders are challenged to build on colleagues’ accomplishments.
  • Funders struggle to learn what grantees are achieving.
  • Innovative strategies inspire, but languish on the drawing board.

External evaluators bring expertise that helps nonprofits define their impact in measurable terms and respond to challenges like these. But evaluation has a fraught history when it comes to advocates and organizers. Even when it’s self-initiated, advocacy organizations sometimes feel that traditional external evaluation is too much: Too much staff time; too much expense; too long to get analysis that may no longer be timely when it’s delivered.

Aligned Measurement and Learning (“Aligned MLE”) is a phased-in, flexible method to measure and communicate progress on advocacy goals. Aligned MLE takes a page from the software industry’s “Agile” project management.

Aligned MLE starts from what advocates consistently do – analyze their work informally and adjust their work accordingly. It helps make that learning more systematic and readily available so that the entire organization benefits.

Benefits of Aligned MLE

For organizational leadership:

  • Moderate up-front investment. Aligned MLE phases in the organization’s financial and time investment in measurement and learning by starting with one or two work teams. It doesn’t demand a large up-front dedication of leadership or management time.
  • Scalable measurement & learning program. Over time, if desired, Aligned measurement and learning can scale to involve multiple work teams or the entire organization in measurement and learning.
  • Focus on organizational priorities and resilience. Aligned MLE is flexible but not free-form. It helps teams keep the focus on important strategic plan and project plan goals, including diversity, equity and inclusion, and building resilience.
  • Moderate phase-in of culture change. Aligned starts with the teams that are ready. So it doesn’t require that all staff embrace a learning program immediately.
  • Leadership is better-informed. Aligned MLE ensures that the learning of high-performing teams is consistently available to leadership in easily digestible formats.
  • Early insights into evolving issues and trends. Leadership receives timely updates as work teams analyze new policy, developments in the environment, or innovations by competitors, opponents, and funders.
  • Building “evaluative thinking.” Aligned consultants work as coaches, facilitators, and co-learners, calling out achievements and assisting work teams to set realistic expectations for program impact. They help teams to communicate their interim progress to fellow staff and stakeholders.

For work teams:

  • Benefits the team’s work immediately. Aligned MLE provides benefits from the very start. Teams that work with the MLE consultant get better at capturing and using data to improve current work, and plan upcoming initiatives.
  • Starting where teams are. Aligned MLE builds off of the tools and processes that work teams are already using, maximizing their value for measuring quality or impact.
  • “Get what you are ready for.” Work teams get as much (or as small an amount) of measurement and learning as they’re ready for.
  • Supports resilience and diversification. Teams that develop “evaluative thinking” through the Aligned process become more aware of “how change happens” within their field and are better prepared to identify and exploit policy windows.

Is Aligned MLE Right for Your Organization?

Readiness and roles of organizational leadership. Leadership that is ready to deploy measurement for learning, and not accountability, is ready for Aligned MLE.

Readiness and roles of teams and programs. Team leads must be realistic about their goals and capacities, and be prepared to commit time to MLE planning and discussing impact. They also must communicate that learning is the objective of Aligned, in order to build team members’ trust and interest in the process.

Aligned MLE: Let’s Connect

Are you curious about how Aligned could work for your organization – or just want to talk it through? Please be in touch.

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