As I have previously argued in a recent post, many NGOs have quite conventional organizing forms, facing the challenge of openness and often not founding a way to deal with open networks and a two way conversation. A key step to openness and different understanding of roles such as an organization, its members and stakeholders comes from a cultural shift towards learning.

NGO as learning organizations

Mariëtte Heres wrote an interesting article called “Aid is a knowledge industry.” She emphasizes on the importance of knowledge sharing and learning within and between NGOs and states that, “although NGOs are taking more interest in knowledge management, they have so far failed to recognize that they are part of a knowledge industry, of which the delivery of goods and services is only a part.”

If an NGO wants to become a learning organization, it is important that – in addition to acquiring substantive knowledge – it learns more about learning. ‘You need a learning attitude in this sector. And if you want to learn, you have to experiment. Even if the experiment is a failure, you still learn from it. Knowledge is the result of reflection’.

The ICCO alliance is in this regard quite progressive. It established publicly available “Learning and Sharing Spaces.” This ambitious attempt for a learning organization results in better understanding and innovation through transparency.

Open source everything

Mark Surman marks in his post, “Open, philanthropy and a theory of change,” a step further and argues for radical transparency, which “means opening up not only your yearly books, but also openly sharing your planning, learning and relationships as you go along.” In an inspiring visualization he describes his vision for an open knowledge society filled with possibilities. All organizational boundaries diminish – a key is to listen, learn and evolve with the community. The result is open philanthropy with a constant flow of ideas.