Transparency and Accountability Initiative (TAI) is a collaborative of funders committed to building a more just, equitable, and inclusive society through greater transparency, accountability, and effective participation around the globe. TAI helps its members to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of their transparency and accountability funding, and the field as a whole.
When it came time to evaluate their 2016-2019 strategy period, TAI made sure to engage their funder members in the strategic review process. Funder members worked alongside the TAI Secretariat to inform the evaluation, make sense of the findings, and translate learnings into a forthcoming strategy for 2020-2024. With the new 2020-2024 strategy will come a revised monitoring, evaluation, and learning system, and TAI came to the LabStorm group for advice on continued funder engagement in this process.
TAI wants to improve the way they engage with funders by communicating their culture of curiosity to new and current partners, balancing frequent feedback from funder members with more strategic adaptations, and incentivizing positive change among members. For many members of the feedback community, these are relatable challenges. It was a lively LabStorm, with lots of creative ideas from attendees across the spectrum of social impact work. Here’s what they had to say:
Lead with principles. In order to communicate their culture of learning, attendees suggested that TAI define learning and curiosity as “core principles”. Core principles are a simple way to publicly demonstrate organizational culture and signal to new partners what is going to be foundational in their work with TAI. In order to get the word out about these principles, attendees suggested that TAI explain why these principles matter through video messages, or written content on the TAI website or on partner organizations’ blogs. By starting with core principles of learning and curiosity, TAI can ensure that their culture is understood – and sustained – as their strategy continues to evolve.
Set expectations. TAI is committed to influencing positive change among their funder members, and the transparency and accountability funding landscape as a whole. But behavior change is hard. Attendees noted this challenge, and suggested that instead of focusing on incentives, which can seem punitive, TAI starts by setting clear expectations, which can inspire and reward practice. Building on the core principles, TAI can articulate working agreements with their partners. This process will not only strengthen TAI’s relationships with their funder members, but will also make it easier to measure when funders change their behavior.
Plan for feedback around anticipated needs or uses. As TAI continues to build mutually trusting relationships with their funder members, they want to be open to feedback without letting constant feedback slow them down or redirect their strategic actions. LabStorm attendees suggested that TAI plan ahead for the stages of their projects when feedback would be most useful. That way, they can ask for feedback and open up conversations with funder members when it makes the most strategic sense.
Feedback and learning strategies can be different things. It is challenging for TAI to balance feedback and responsiveness to members with more systematic learning and adaptation. LabStorm attendees noted that it may be helpful to think of feedback and learning as powerful means to different ends. Feedback may serve TAI well for rapid changes to existing systems. Learning from feedback and evidence informs deeper adaptation, similar to their recent evaluation and strategic review process. Attendees suggested that TAI choose to use either feedback or learning strategies depending on the problem they are trying to address. By connecting learning and feedback to specific needs, they will make their adaptive processes more efficient.
This LabStorm reminded us that feedback is not always easy. TAI has done an exemplary job listening and responding to the funder members they work with, and as a result, they face some nuanced challenges. Do you have advice for managing feedback, learning, and adaptation in a funder collaborative? Leave a comment below or send a message to [email protected].