Talk:Organizational Learning Indicators

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See the original thread of this E-Discussion on D-Groups

Nadejda Loumbeva, 2009/02/13

Hi everyone,

Would any of you have come across organisational learning indicators ...? For example, taking Peter Senge's framework:

  • personal mastery - indicators?
  • shared vision - indicators?
  • mental models - indicators?
  • working in groups and teams - indicators?
  • systems thinking - indicators? ...

Amina Singh, 2009/02/16

Hi Nadejda,

Thanks for asking this question - and I am waiting for people's answers. I have had the same question and still struggling with it - cos I facilitated this learning programme for an Org. And now in the evaluation, we are trying to figure out the indicators.

For the personal mastery - it was relatively ok, as all the participants of the programme had developed their own learning plans using Outcome Mapping their own progress markers were indicators.

For the others, I have been describing proxy my reflection report, but no direct indicators. For instance, describing cases of the process of developing of a shared vision - as opposed to how things were before....visions were formed and then passed down. Also dynamics in the learning sets - as indicators of group and team work. For systems thinking - how the learning and reflection is influencing and changing the strategic focus in the organisation...the people are seeing and analysing their work from a different perspective...getting the bigger picture and reflecting on their individual work critically in that new perspective...

Dont know if this is useful for you - but I also found the Five competencies model quite useful - see Toolkit for Knowledge and Learning by Ben Ramalingam...there is a framework there with different levels - which can be indicators for where the organisation is in becoming a learning organisation ( you can download the pdf document and see page 12 for the framework).

I am still searching to read your thoughts

Hope this was helpful at all...

regards amina

Nadejda Loumbeva, 2009/02/16

Hi Amina,

Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts. This is much appreciated.

Like you, I think Senge's framework can be quite useful. I think this is because it is broad and holistic yet very well defined, i.e., each stream is clear and distinct from the rest ...

A point to it which I find important is that for there to be any learning, all streams should be happening simultaneously and flowing in and out of each other. And so, we can imagine this dynamic, constantly changing bundle called learning organisation.

Another point to make is that (according to Senge) systems-thinking is the one stream which 1. brings the other four (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning) together and 2. pushes and pulls the learning organisation. Pretty interesting stuff.

I think the above two should be taken into account whenever doing a learning organisation/organisational learning evaluation based on the Senge framework. In other words, all streams should be there at once for there to be any organisational learning per se ... And, if systems-thinking is not doing so well, then even if the other four streams are doing well, there would be something out of place somewhere in the big picture of the organisation that would need to be fixed.

On evaluation indicators for each stream: I like your idea of using learning plan outcome mapping ... How does this work? They put together their learning plans, then tick off what they've achieved, then ...? This is interesting, but would it not be a little too specific and so not entirely representative? Please let me know what you think.

I've just worked on a qualitative learning organisation measurement framework, it is entirely qualitative and the indicators are soft ... What do you think about it ...?

Like you, I would love to hear from other KM4Dev-ers who may have something to share on this.

Sebastiao Ferreira, 2009/02/17

Hi Nadejda,

The approach of Senge on organizational learning is very powerful but to develop indicators for monitoring on each one of those conceptual areas is not something we can do directly, because the gap is too broad for being crossed with just one step. In project management indicators come from objectives, in organizational learning this analogie may also be useful.

Learning is for evolving, it is for surviving, it is for remaining meaningful as organization, so it depends of the context. My suggestion is to go through an intermediary step analyzing the context of the organization. What strategic challenges is it facing? What you have to learn for successfully coping with these challenges? These two questions will help to identify learning objectives. Once you have objectives you can define indicators. You can use the approach of Senge as you are going through these analyses.

Each organization has a particular way of learning and also its particular barriers for learning. If we know these two organizational dynamics we can narrow the areas of observation, and define better indicators. In my opinion we should give priority, when defining indicators, to those areas that we cannot learn spontaneously.

The particular way the knowledge management system is organized in your organization may also influence the route you have to go through for defining learning indicators.

I hope it makes sense for you.

Amina Singh, 2009/02/18

Hi Nadejda,

Thanks. What Sebastiao said in his posting makes sense to me - focusing on the objectives for organisation learning to derive indicators. In this case I was referring to, there had been a strategic shift in the organisation, so the learning objectives for the entire learning sets were linked to this strategic shift. So for the entire programme, there were objectives at three levels - one at individual level - developing deeper understanding of one's own work/practice, building on reflective practices, coaching and mentoring skills. Then at the learning sets level ( or team level) - and then at the organisation level. The outcome mapping tool were used only at individual and learning set level. So each learning set also had their own outcome objectives ( learning objectives) which were linked to the Organisation's new strategy and learning needs. Then at the individual level - each had their own outcome maps which were to be in line with the learning set objectives. Ofcourse, we did face a lot of challenges/limitations in the process.

I am interested to hear from people if there have been experiences in developing country context - not in an INGO but a lcocal NGO.

Cristina Sette, 2009/02/18


Have a look at the survey developed by Harvard Business School on capacity for organizational learning. I have applied the survey and it is really effective as a diagnostic tool.

The whole survey is based on the following:

  • Building Block*
  • Distinguishing Characteristics*

A supportive learning environment


  • Feel safe disagreeing with others, asking naďve questions, owning up to

mistakes, and presenting minority viewpoints

  • Recognize the value of opposing ideas
  • Take risks and explore the unknown
  • Take time to review organizational processes

Concrete learning processes

A team or company has formal processes for:

  • Generating, collecting, interpreting, and disseminating information
  • Experimenting with new offerings
  • Gathering intelligence on competitors, customers, and technological


  • Identifying and solving problems
  • Developing employees' skills

Leadership that reinforces learning

The organization's leaders:

  • Demonstrate willingness to entertain alternative viewpoints
  • Signal the importance of spending time on problem identification,

knowledge transfer, and reflection

  • Engage in active questioning and listening

The survey results are compared against a benchmarking, that helps place the organization among top others. The survey results will be our baseline. We will work on some strategic issues to improve our scores and see how we perform in a particular time frame.

Programme Specialist, Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative, Rome, Italy.

Sebastiao Ferreira , 2009/02/18

In the same vein of Cristina I suggest the book Unplugged Knowledge, from Mckinsey Consulting. There they map around 130 policies that influence the learning capacity of an organization. Their work was done for businesses should be great if someone had something similar for non-profit.

If we analyze the subject of the "characteristics" suggested by Harvard we will see that they are a mix of institutional policies and proxy indicators. The assumption is that, if these things are happening, then the organization should be learning. In most cases it is enough, but if you want to go directly to the indicators of learning you should define learning objectives.

How to define learning objectives? My experience is that it depends of the context of the organization: the role the organization is playing in the local society and the challenges that the organization and its partners are facing together.