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What’s the Big Idea?



Learning Organisations – The Big Idea Learning Organisations need to know why they exist and where they’re going. When entering into a funding agreement/ contract with grant giving bodies such as the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), you need to devise a Business Plan. Learning Outcomes: Step 1 – The Big Idea After completing Step 1, Learning Organisations from the Voluntary and Community and Faith Sector should be able to:

• Understand what it means to be a ‘Learning Organisation’ • Understand what a Mission Statement is, and why your Learning Organisation must have one • Involve key Stakeholders to write a Mission Statement for your own Learning Organisation • Agree on ‘core values’ for your Organisation • Understand the difference between Aims and Objectives and why all learning organisations need them • Write Aims and Objectives for your learning organisation • Understand SWOT stage 1 and 2 and complete the analysis for your organisation • Be able to research further information related to these topics

Step 1 will help you to meet quality indicators for: PQASSO Quality area 1 Planning for Quality PQASSO Quality area 2 Governance CIF Question 7 Leadership and Management 2

Are you a Learning Organisation? All these things happen in a Learning Organisation • Risk-taking is encouraged • Information is reflected upon • Responsibility and authority are delegated • Contributions of individuals are maximised • A culture of collaborative working is promoted • Individual, team and organisational learning are valued • There is a system of shared beliefs, goals and objectives • Problems provide an opportunity for learning, not for blame • Individuals, teams, and an organisation that learns from experience • Development of new ideas, methods and processes are encouraged • Need to adapt to change and exploit new opportunities is encouraged • Everyone is encouraged and expected to perform to their maximum ability

Together we’ll learn! The concept of a learning organisation has been developing in the last 30 years as attempts are made to identify the Key Characteristics of successful organisations. There are 5 principal features of a learning organisation, with some Key characteristics:

Organisational Structure - Key characteristics Learning organisations have managerial structures that enhance opportunities for employee, volunteer, and service user involvement in the organisation. All are empowered to make relevant decisions. Structures support teamwork. • Service user feedback and participation are actively sought, valued and resourced, and used to influence and inform ‘good practice’. • Team working, learning, and making the best use of all staff skills are integral to the organisation. • There is collaborative working across the organisation. 3

Organisational Culture - Key characteristics Learning organisations have strong cultures that promote openness, creativity, and experimentation. They encourage the processing and sharing of information, and nurture innovation. They provide the freedom to try new things, to risk failure, and to learn from mistakes. • There is a system of shared beliefs, values, goals and objectives. • The development of new ideas and methods is encouraged. • An open learning environment allows learning from mistakes and the opportunity to test out innovative practice. • Messages from research and new evidence are thought about and incorporated into practice.

Information systems - Key characteristics Learning organisations require information systems that improve and support ‘good practice’. They move beyond those used in traditional organisations where information is generally used for control purposes. • There are effective information systems, for both internal and external communication. • Policies and procedures are meaningful and understood by everybody (based on a human rights and social justice approach).

Human Resource Practices - Key characteristics People are recognised as the creators and users of organisational learning. Human Resource Management focuses on provision and support of individual learning. Appraisal and reward systems are concerned to measure long-term performance and to promote the acquisition and sharing of new skills and knowledge. • There is continuous development for all staff including a clear supervision and appraisal policy.

Leadership – Key Characteristics Organisational learning depends heavily on effective leadership. Leaders model the openness, risk-taking and reflection necessary for learning, and communicate a compelling vision of the learning organisation. They provide the empathy, support and personal advocacy needed to lead others towards it. They ensure that organisations and work groups have the capacity to learn, change and develop. • There is capacity for the organisation to change and develop services over and above day-to-day delivery. • Leadership at all levels embodies and models the key principles of a learning organisation.


A Learning Organisation Why do we exist? Everyone from potential funders to your newest member of staff, volunteer or learner, needs to know your Mission Statement, Values, Aims, Objectives - why you exist.

– but WHY? Well, they want to know what you do, who with, and how you’ll make it happen! Before you rush off and get everyone in your group together to start discussing these, here are some helpful definitions: What is a Mission Statement? Every group needs one! A Mission Statement (sometimes called ‘Overall Aim’) is a brief declaration of your group’s purpose and values. It ensures that everyone - inside and outside your group understands why your group exists. What are Values? From policy through to behaviour, Key Values are crucial to consistency within your group. They underpin all your policies, practices, and procedures. Your Mission Statement could include your Key Values, though some groups present their Values separate from their Mission Statement. What are Aims? Aims (sometimes called ‘Strategic Goals’ or ‘Specific Aims’) are your group’s overall goals. They show how you intend to achieve your Mission Statement. Everything your group does should relate back to your Aims. What are Objectives? Objectives (sometimes called ‘Operational Objectives’) show how you will achieve your Aims. They are detailed, costed, and timed plans of what your group will do to meet each of your Aims. 5

Here are some examples to check out before moving onto a couple of exercises...

West Yorkshire project for young Asian people

Mission Statement We are here to improve the quality of life for young Asian people and enable them to compete in the labour market on a more equal footing

Aims Aim 1 To enable young Asian people to secure and retain permanent employment Aim 2 To give young Asian people the skills necessary to move into economic independence

You’ll find that learning organisations present what they do in different ways. It’s really up to you how you communicate it.

Objectives Objectives for Aim 1 • To provide intensive support through establishing a team of volunteer mentors at appropriate work placements. • To give young Asian people the skills required to compete in the job market by providing training in life skills, and budgeting. Objectives for Aim 2 • To enable young Asian people to make career choices through provision of pre-vocational training. • To help young Asian people into the job market through development of self-confidence, communication skills, literacy and numeracy skills.


One of the biggest providers of Adult and Community Learning (ACL) in the UK is the Workers Education Association (WEA). They present their Values separately from their Mission Statement, and have a ‘Vision’ too. Groups can get confused between ‘Mission’ and ‘Vision’. In the following WEA example, the Vision could be called the Big Idea.

About the WEA

Vision Our vision is to be the recognised voice of adult learners, and the leading provider of adult and community learning in the UK by any standard.

Mission Statement The WEA is a 21st Century, democratic, voluntary adult education movement, committed to widening participation and to enabling people to realise their full potential through learning.

Aims To involve learners, volunteers, members and other partners in: • Influencing and campaigning on behalf of adult learners • Removing barriers to learning • Being responsive in the heart of communities • Making the most effective use of all our resources • Promoting learning for life • Changing and enriching lives through learning – at individual and community levels • Promoting adult education worldwide

You should have a good feel now about the sort of things that you need to be thinking about.


If you already have these in place, then it’s essential to revisit them to see if they’re still relevant.

• Creating equality and opportunity, and challenging discrimination • Believing in people, communities and their potential to change through Education • Putting the learner at the centre of everything we do • Challenging and questioning ourselves 7

It’s a good idea to hold some ‘Big Idea’ sessions that will help your organisation to agree on your Mission, Values, Aims and Objectives.

Remember to set enough time aside!

Creating your Mission Statement Take at least 2 hours! Trying to sum up why your group exists, and what you do in one super-snappy sentence might sound difficult, but remember, you’re the experts!

Think of Key words and phrases Ideas for your Mission Statement

Ideas for your underpinning Values

Your Mission Statement

Your Values

Make it exciting, so it reflects the passion and energy that inspired all of you to set up your group. So when that funder, new volunteer or learner, asks you what you do - you’ll be able to tell them - and more! Here are some things to think about while you’re creating your new mission statement - or reviewing your old one:

• Your mission statement should express a ‘shared vision’ • This task must involve all stakeholders • Don’t get hung up on the language you use - you can refine it later • Make sure everyone agrees on it Consider the Values that underpin everything your group does...

Do you want to present your Mission Statement separate to your Values? 8

What are your aims? You might have more than one aim. Take a look at previous examples to remind you what they are. Make sure you put enough time aside to work through this. What are your group’s aims?

What are your objectives? Remember to link your objectives to your aims. Objectives are the steps you’ll take to achieve your aims (how you’ll do it). What are your group’s objectives?

What aims are they linked to?


SWOT Analysis Understanding: Strengths – Weaknesses – Opportunities - Threats Why use SWOT Analysis? SWOT Analysis is a very effective way of identifying your Strengths and Weaknesses, and of examining the Opportunities and Threats you face. Using the SWOT framework helps you to focus your activities into areas where you are strong and where the greatest opportunities lie.

How to use this tool To carry out a SWOT Analysis you need to set aside enough time and involve your stakeholders. Make sure everyone knows why you’re doing it. There are 2 stages to the SWOT. Stage 1 General overview of your organisation Stage 2 Analyse your SWOT For Stage 1 of the SWOT, you could use the following questions as a guide Strengths • What advantages do you have? • What do you do well? • What resources do you have access to? • What do other people see as your strengths? Consider this from your own point of view and from the point of view of the people you deal with. Be realistic but shout about your successes! Weaknesses • What could you improve? • What do you do badly? • What should you avoid? Again, consider this from an internal and external basis: Do other people seem to perceive weaknesses that you do not see? Are other groups doing any better than you? It is best to be realistic now, and face any unpleasant truths as soon as possible. 10

Opportunities • Where are the good opportunities facing you? • What are the interesting and new trends you are aware of? A useful approach to looking at opportunities is to look at your strengths and ask yourself if these open up any opportunities.Alternatively, look at your weaknesses and ask yourself whether you could open up opportunities by eliminating them. Threats • What obstacles do you face? • Are the required specifications for your job or services changing? • Do you have cash-flow problems? • Could any of your weaknesses seriously threaten your service? Carrying out this analysis will often be illuminating - both in terms of pointing out what needs to be done, and in putting problems into perspective.

SWOT – Stage 1 Set out your strengths and weaknesses as you see them. Note possible opportunities and threats which may be imminent or emerge in the future. Strengths




SWOT – Stage 2 This should help you to focus on your strengths, minimise weaknesses, and take the greatest possible advantage of opportunities. Thinking of the future of your organisation - how could you: Build on your Strengths?

Improve on your Weaknesses?

Take advantage of Opportunities?

Minimise the Threats?

Doing a SWOT can have a real positive impact on your group. It will help you to focus on what you are set up to do, and your future direction (strategic planning). Once you’ve done SWOT stage 2, you need to develop an Action Plan (Step 2) which should be SMART (Step 2). It’s good to include a summary of your SWOT in your business plan. This shows learners and funders that you’re an organisation that looks forward to the future and is not afraid of change!


Weblinks The LSC exists to make England better skilled and more competitive. They have a single goal: to improve the skills of England's young people and adults to make sure we have a workforce that is of world-class standards. They are responsible for planning and funding high-quality vocational education and training for everyone. Our vision is that by 2010, young people and adults in England have the knowledge and skills matching the best in the world and are part of a truly competitive workforce. Partnership at Work aims to improve the quality of working lives in voluntary youth, community and play organisations. They do this by providing support, advice and training on employment issues to managers and management committee members. Go to this website to find out information on strategic planning. You can search the website by typing in key words like ‘aims’ or ‘mission statement’. Acas aims to improve organisations and working life through better employment relations. They provide up-to-date information, independent advice, high quality training and work with employers and employees to solve problems and improve performance. A wealth of information here. Click on ‘Areas of Concern’. This will take you to lots of other useful links and information. The Black Practitioners and Learners' Network (BPLN) website. The site will be of interest to black learners and practitioners, practitioners generally who work with black adults and anyone who is interested in challenging racism and promoting cultural diversity. Association of chief executives of voluntary organisations Promoting the voluntary sector


What's the big idea?  

This part of this toolkit looks at your whole organisation as a learning organisation.

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