Post from Bev:
How do you show that a network’s activities have changed the performance of its members in their practice? And, how do you use that information to feed into a vision of where the network should go next?
That’s how we used a new version of our value-creation framework for a learning network whose members come from different countries in Southern Africa.
For this network one project cycle was coming to an end and a new one was beginning. Not only had we collected many value-creation stories to show the connection between network activities and changes in public finance management in their respective countries, but we also used the value cycles in the framework to look at what the project had aspired to in the beginning, what happened, and what should happen in the next phase of the project.
The report I produced for the project summarizes the new version of our framework (based on the original framework, but now substantially expanded) and demonstrates how this new framework can be used to provide a strategic tool for evaluating and shaping a big social learning project.
Highlights on using this updated framework:
- What was really powerful in this session was the combination of value creation stories and indicators at each cycle. This is what the framework is about – not just value-creation stories as is often interpreted.
- In a meeting that was potentially fraught with political tensions the framework gave a shared language for understanding what had happened and for negotiating the way ahead in a productive and transparent way. In particular the strategic and enabling value cycles helped to surface some of the most serious places of disconnect in the functioning of the project.
- We collected value-creation stories for nearly four years. During this time most network members felt that collecting these stories was a hoop to jump through to keep project funders happy. But when they were put together into a strategic document based on the framework, network leaders finally realized the power of their stories for their own network learning.
- The idea of feedback loops was extremely helpful for showing how learning comes from talking about successes and failures and that both need to be integrated into the discourse of the network.
- It is very time and resource intensive to collect and refine good value-creation stories and the data for the different cycles. We collected hundreds of partial stories; it took persistence to follow up with people to complete them. There were only about fifty stories that went through all cycles (often at a stretch) and around twenty stories that were really good.
- Next time it should be easier because people will now have some good models of stories and see the value of collecting them. But it will take discipline to turn the telling and recording of stories (and the feedback loops) into a regular network practice.
- In the real world – certainly the one I live in – the process of collecting data is much more messy than people realize. And it’s certainly not linear. It was more of a bricolage as we went back and forth between people, stories and indicators, scraping out time, improvising, and making up tools as we went.