Grantmakers for Effective Organizations The Learning Conference 2017 Recap

The Learning Conference 2017 offered a range of perspective and ideas on learning for continuous improvement. As grantmakers, we want to know if our efforts are making a difference and how we can improve our work over time. Often, we are not getting the most from evaluation, because it is in isolation from grantees, communities and peers, and too few of us are sharing what we’re learning, both in our successes and failures.

Over the course of two days in Chicago, participants experienced a mix of session formats, speakers from inside and outside our sector, structured networking and informal discussions with peers that explored ways to design and implement evaluation and learning approaches that generate stronger information, decisions and performance.

The conference agenda featured a mix of session formats, structured networking and time for informal conversations with peers. Highlights included:

  • Pre-Conference Workshops: Two-hour workshops provided a deeper dive into topics related to developing systemic theories of change and embedding collaborative learning into daily work practices.
  • Breakout Sessions: 12 breakout sessions (lasting 75 minutes), designed by members of the GEO community, covered topics such as putting a learning culture into practice, using beneficiary and grantee feedback to improve our processes, learning alongside peers, community members, and grantees, incorporating diversity, equity and inclusion into our evaluation practices, and building nonprofit capacity for learning and evaluation.
  • Opening Session: This interactive session kicked off the conference to help participants better understand their unique learning challenges and explore ways to make the most of their conference experience.
  • Plenary Sessions: Participants heard from grantmaker and nonprofit speakers on topics related to the connection of learning and equity as well as how we can enact a learning culture within our organizations.
  • Short Talks: View videos from five energizing, succinct, 20-minute keynote style sessions offering fresh perspectives from thought leaders within and outside philanthropy.
  • Site Visits: Explored the vibrancy of the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors of Chicago.
  • Fail Fest: Embraced learning from failure and affirmed the value of taking risks by hearing four grantmakers share candid stories of their favorite failures and hard lessons learned.