Mercy Corps is committed to being a learning organization. Over the past five years we have invested in three areas of the agency — team development, information management and knowledge generation and sharing — to improve our staff effectiveness and program results.
Mercy Corps is committed to being a learning organization in order to:
• Become more effective in achieving its mission by understanding and applying recommended practices;
• Work efficiently and achieve meaningful impact enabled by easy access to information resources and communities of practice;
• Participate as a leader in industry-wide innovative thinking by developing, documenting and disseminating lessons learned, new strategies and recommended practices; and
• Attract, develop and retain outstanding leaders who promote learning across the organization
Our approach has been heavily influenced by Peter Senge’s instrumental work, “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization” (1994) as well as Bruce Britton’s “Learning for Change: Principles and Practices of Learning Organizations” (2002), which is targeted at development organizations like ours.
Over the past five years we have invested in three areas of the agency — team development, information management and knowledge generation and sharing — to improve our staff effectiveness and program results. Below are the major initiatives we have undertaken.
Monitoring and Evaluation
Mercy Corps’ Design, Monitoring and Evaluation (DM&E) initiative has been underway since 2003. The 100-plus Mercy Corps staff working full or part-time on DM&E challenges in the field are an integral part of this initiative. In rapidly changing environments, monitoring the results of our programs allows teams to build on strengths and make course corrections where necessary. The core philosophical approach underpinning this initiative is that DM&E should be led, tailored and driven by our country offices.
For example, a baseline study in Indonesia for a child nutrition project that was intended to support school lunches actually found that intestinal worms causing anemia were the leading cause of malnutrition. Based on this information, the project changed course and began giving deworming tablets to combat the anemia. An evaluation showed that this intervention was dramatically decreasing malnutrition. We advocated for the government of Indonesia to adopt the program, which has since been rolled out countrywide.
Innovative relationships with leading universities provide Mercy Corps with access to a wealth of expertise, research and current thinking that supports excellence in our field programs. Universities have seconded faculty with specialized skills and knowledge to assist our programs and offer education opportunities and scholarships to Mercy Corps staff and partners.
To date we have partnered to place leading field practitioners in academic environments where they teach, research and document learning. Participating universities include Harvard, Yale, Edinburgh, Johns Hopkins and the University of Washington. In addition, universities have assisted our field operations by providing specific expertise -- for example, Oregon State University provided agricultural economics experts for our Nepal program.
In 2008, Mercy Corps’ graduate internships program placed over 40 interns in 30 field offices around the world. Interns carried out important tasks supporting monitoring and evaluation, assessments in public health and agriculture and many other fields.
Mercy Corps aims to inspire our teams to apply innovation and social entrepreneurship to solve the most critical problems facing the communities we serve. We strive to attract, retain and develop team members who serve as the engine to achieving this goal. To assist new hires with orientation to the agency, Mercy Corps has developed e-learning courses that are available to team members worldwide.
In addition to training, we provide staff with opportunities to serve in various functions and regions through special assignments and temporary postings elsewhere in the world. All staff are encouraged to spend five percent of their time on learning.
Learning From Each Other
In the pressure of rapid implementation of programs in emergency and transitional environments, one can forget to reflect on program successes and weakness. Our commitment to capturing learning through field studies, lessons learned, workshops, tool development and journal articles aims to make it easier to transfer knowledge internally and share it with our external colleagues.
For example, in the summer of 2008, we conducted an open-ended inquiry regarding the most significant changes in terms of stability and recovery since Kosovo’s active conflict in the late 1990s. Participants from 13 diverse communities identified the issues, actors and approaches that have had the greatest impact on these changes. Other examples are available on our website.
Information management entails acquiring, organizing, retrieving, delivering and maintaining information -- from multiple sources, to multiple audiences. Mercy Corps has a variety of internal sources of information and technology platforms to enable effective collaboration. As a learning organization, we work to make information readily available to our worldwide staff (even when Internet access is unreliable, as is the case in many of our field offices) by using a variety of print and electronic media.
All stories about Organizational Learning
Adaptive Management in Practice: Lessons from the Field
A growing body of evidence indicates that aid agencies are most successful when able to operate flexibly, particularly in fragile environments.
Ethiopia: Adaptive Management Tools: Concept Notes System
Mercy Corps finds adaptive management is supported by four different but interconnected elements: Culture, People & Skills, Tools & Systems, and Enabling Environment. These elements are discussed in the context of one of Mercy Corps’ complex programs in pastoral Ethiopia.
Remote Management Annotated Bibliography
This annotated bibliography provides an overview of literature related to remote management in humanitarian settings.
Managing Complexity: Adaptive Management at Mercy Corps
Development actors increasingly agree that a confluence of new challenges and greater complexity require aid agencies to be more agile.
Brief - Practicing What We Preach? A Review of Learning and Research and Utilization
As organizations like Mercy Corps increase the quality and quantity of research and evaluations, we need to invest equally in understanding how to make sure that the lessons and recommendations are
Vision for Change
Our vision for change framework is a graphic representation of the way in which key actors, operating principles, and external conditions interact in the service of our mission.
Uganda: Navigating complexity: Adaptive management in the Northern Karamoja Growth, Health & Governance program
Development actors increasing agree that managing programs adaptively – especially complex interventions – can improve their effectiveness. But what does adaptive management look like in practice?
Managing Chaos: Recommendations for Ending Extreme Poverty in Fragile States
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Japan: After the Japan Earthquake: NGO Survey
Completed by Japan Platform approximately two years after the Great East Japan Earthquake this survey was conducted as part of the ‘Tomodachi NGO Leadership Program’ to evaluate the response of Jap
Mercy Corps' Research Partnerships
As part of its commitment to learning, Mercy Corps partners with a large range of academic institutions, think tanks and peer organizations from across the globe to engage on research and evaluatio