A Culture of Learning is one of six Essential Practices in Active Living By Design (ALBD)’s Community Action Model. In order to create meaningful and sustained community change, we believe that these practices should be interwoven throughout each action step within the model. Our experiences over the years with a variety of community partnerships has reinforced the value of ingrained, ongoing opportunities to learn by improving effectiveness and impact through partnerships, continual assessment of initiatives, and collaborative learning and networking.
Integrating opportunities for collaborative learning into healthy community change initiatives enables partnerships to maximize funding, coaching, and technical assistance in actionable ways. Our recent partnerships with the Roadmaps to Health Action Awards and Healthy Neighborhoods partners have been powerful examples of how opportunities for learning and skill building with others can ignite motivation, recharge commitment, and accelerate the impact of partners within the communities they serve. And within our own organization, engaging in collaborative learning with communities has taught us lessons about how the work actually unfolds and has helped us hone our skills and expertise.
Through these partnerships and many others, we’ve learned that a culture of learning is maintained by community partners who possess key qualities of collaborative learners and put them into practice. And as I have honed my role as ALBD’s Collaborative Learning Director, three lessons have stood out to me.
The capacity to learn is a gift.
Every person and community has a story to tell and a lesson to share. Oftentimes, communities that seem most challenged can be the best teachers and collaborative learners because they are particularly attuned to the realities of the work. Collaborative learners recognize that those who are perceived to lack capacity for community change actually have unique capacity. And by sharing in the gift of respect for others’ perspectives, collaborative learners also set a stage so that everyone can contribute with equal value and yield mutual benefits in exchanges.
The ability to learn is a skill.
Learning, like community change, is a process that takes time. Collaborative learners are eager to intentionally plan for and carve out the time needed to engage in learning activities. They also recognize that an iterative process of learning is an integral part of healthy community change, rather than a side benefit that may occur only if funding is provided to support it. While keeping an eye on goals and solutions, collaborative learners watch for unanticipated changes in community context and new opportunities that unfold during the process. They are practitioners of the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle, which approaches a change process by planning it, trying it, observing the results, and acting on what is learned.
The willingness to learn is a choice.
A collaborative learner is humble and curious. They recognize that valuable knowledge and experience can be found both within and externally, and they are motivated to harness perspectives that differ from their own. They face challenges by asking questions that can lead them to new and better approaches.
In our collaboration with funders and the communities we support, ALBD continues to advocate for the inclusion of the time and resources required to convene and support learning networks, cross-community exchanges, and training opportunities. A culture of learning supports continuous improvement that not only benefits individual communities, but also creates synergistic impact across the healthy community field. Each of us has the capacity to learn; let’s make the choice to willingly be collaborative learners.
“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice.” —Brian Herbert