What is it?
A learning agenda includes (1) a set of questions addressing critical knowledge gaps (2) a set of associated activities to answer them and (3) products aimed at disseminating findings and designed with usage and application in mind. A learning agenda can help you:
- Test and explore assumptions and hypotheses throughout implementation and stay open to the possibility that your assumptions and hypotheses are not accurate;
- Fill knowledge gaps that remain during implementation start-up;
- Make more informed decisions and support making your work more effective and efficient.
A learning agenda can also be a useful process through which to collaborate with peers and colleagues, fill gaps in knowledge and generate new evidence that we can then use to adapt our work. It can also help guide performance management planning by setting knowledge and information priorities. For example, a learning agenda can assist with prioritizing evaluations and research activities as well as in determining key indicators.
Ideally, you should develop a learning agenda during the design phase of a strategy, project, or activity, after you have developed a results framework or development hypotheses.
Guidance and Tools
Need help getting started?
Consider using the CLA Maturity Tool to explore how your team approaches learning.
Stay open and curious. Be open to the possibility that your development hypothesis/theory of change could be wrong.
- Collaborate with peers. Learning agendas provide opportunities to engage in iterative, consultative processes that can foster engagement and buy-in, enhance learning agenda relevance and use, and facilitate coordination and collaboration. However, it is also important to know when and how to limit consensus-building to keep efforts moving forward and avoid “consensus fatigue.”
- Engage with external stakeholders, especially local knowledge sources. Collaboration is critical in establishing and implementing learning agendas. Bringing stakeholders into the design process will improve the quality of the learning questions and increase buy-in and stakeholders’ willingness to contribute to the implementation of learning activities. Moreover, checking whether other stakeholders have already explored your learning questions will help you avoid reinvestigating a question.
- Include learning activities that go beyond traditional M&E. Learning for continuous improvement often requires multiple knowledge sources. These should often include monitoring and evaluation activities, but they can also include activities like in-person group seminars and workshops, formal presentations among working groups and communities of practice, and the collation and dissemination of case-studies and stories related to tacit knowledge and experiences.
- Keep your learning agenda alive. As you begin to answer your learning questions, further questions may arise, leading the team to question the theory of change, adjust learning questions, or modify learning activities. By evaluating your learning agenda periodically, you can ensure its continued relevance.
Making the Case
Learning agendas are becoming a more frequently used tool within U.S. government agencies and development organizations to improve organizational effectiveness and efficiency. Multiple federal agencies, including HUD, DOL, and USDA, have created and use learning agendas to inform their work, and OMB has provided guidance on learning agendas. A recent landscape analysis identified 17 learning agendas within USAID/Washington.