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Capturing learning in Global Health: reflections from Itad’s Global Health Day

On the 19th April, the health theme at Itad welcomed friends and colleagues to an afternoon of exchange on ‘Capturing learning in Global Health’.


Around 40 people joined us to think about what learning means for us in our work and what we need to do to help it happen. Here, two health theme members and two of our independent consultants reflect on what the day meant for them, personally and professionally.

Ellie Brown, Health theme lead

It was a pleasure to feel part of a wider community of practitioners who are all interested in ‘learning about learning’ and meet lots of new partners and people in our wider Itad network. I was really struck by Catherine’s reflection on the ‘being an expert’ mentality acting as a barrier to learning (find out more about what she thought about the day below!). Our challenge is that really becoming learners often means working with organisations – not just with the people within them – to help them to become learning organisations. What that actually means in practice is still to be defined! Our role as M&E – and L! – professionals is to make the evidence and the learning come together, and not live in separated silos. Some of the most exciting work in our health projects is where we co-create learning solutions, and it was great to see a wider appetite for this.

Wilson Ashimwe, Health theme consultant

What struck me about the Itad Global Health Day was the interest shown in increasing the use of evidence from evaluations to inform decision-making. We are all concerned that evidence generated by evaluations is not sufficiently used in practice. How do we ensure that what we collect and process is disseminated in a usable form? How do we get decision makers and implementors to use the evidence? It was clear that there is no simple formula for improving evidence uptake but many argued that meaningfully engaging stakeholders, including recipients, in the evaluation process (for example through co-creation of design or recommendations) was key to ensuring that the evidence is taken onboard.  It is clear that evaluators are advocating for more use of findings, but more work is needed to understand how to put that evidence into practice.

Catherine Fisher, independent consultant

One theme that interested me was the concept of ‘good enough’ as opposed to ‘perfect’ outputs from evaluations. One participant asked, “When can we share outputs from evaluations that are ‘good enough’?”

I was interested in the idea of the quality of inputs into, and outputs from, learning processes.  In my work, I focus on the quality of processes and on creating spaces in which learning can happen, rather than on the quality of the inputs to those processes or even outputs from them.  Of course, quality of inputs matter, whether it’s a presentation summarising evaluation findings or a problem-solving conversation with a peer.  However, the question is very relevant for the outputs from these process that aim to capture insights (often as ‘lessons learned’) to stimulate learning for others.  The ‘quality’ of those insights will, in part, depend on the quality of the process (who was/wasn’t involved, how deep the learning was and in what context insights were generated). It’s a challenge that those generating ‘lessons learned’ outputs need to engage with. I was reminded that the discipline of learning would benefit from evaluation’s focus on the rigour of the evidence generation process and the integrity of outputs, just as the discipline of evaluation could benefit from the greater focus on the process of sense-making by intended learners that a learning perspective could bring.

Sue Newport, Adolescents 360 evaluation team leader

I think that the day was a great success in bringing together so many people with an interest in health and evaluation, and it provided an opportunity for learning and sharing.  The world café approach was a great way of ice breaking and also helped to identify the different experiences in the room.  I really enjoyed seeing the appetite to learn and share on the day, and also the desire for similar events in the future that will help to cement the community of practice, and hopefully collectively work on some of the issues raised on the day.  A few people mentioned that they would welcome further debate around what role evaluators could and/or should take in influencing individuals or organisations to value learning to the extent that they promote both the process and the utility of findings.  It was interesting to hear from other attendees that this is something they believe needs a community approach.   Judging by the number of emails and requests for connections that I have had since the day was successful in promoting networks and it would be great to see this carried forward and an active community of practice nurtured.