Supporting a dynamic learning agenda across City Bridge Trust

Donna Buxton from City Bridge Trust reflects on how the pandemic has influenced the development of the Trust’s Impact and Learning Strategy

Headshot of Donna Buxton, head of Impact and Learning at City Bridge Trust
Headshot of Donna Buxton, head of Impact and Learning at City Bridge Trust
  • Author: Donna Buxton
  • Published: 20 October 2021

Our journey – where are we now?

We work in partnership with our funded organisations to reduce inequality and grow stronger, more resilient and thriving communities for a London that serves everyone. That is our aim, and that remains our focus.

Our Bridging Divides strategy (2018–2023), clearly established our roadmap. We have additional assets in our toolbox’: access to strong networks across all sectors and a commitment to social investment. Our Impact & Learning Strategy outlines our commitment to grow our organisational learning culture, embedding an equitable approach to delivering impact (whilst fostering continuous learning) and ultimately improving our philanthropic solutions and approaches.

City Bridge Trust has also teamed up with a learning partner Renaisi, a social enterprise which supports us to develop our learning culture and undertake regular temperature checks’ to measure how effectively we are achieving this. The Impact and Learning team also works closely with our staff who represent a vibrant and dynamic learning community.

Our ambition has always been to develop effective feedback loops (internally and externally), either through data we routinely collect or other types of insights we receive from our funded organisations. We want to prove what we do is making a difference but also continually improve our offer to funded organisations and wider stakeholders across London.

Our organisational values underpin a progressive, adaptive, collaborative, inclusive, environmentally responsible and representative way of working. However, the pandemic presented an unforeseen bump’ in the road.

Where do we want to get to?

At this mid-point in our Bridging Divides strategy, we are progressing on our journey towards having a strong learning culture. We are members of various communities of practice including IVAR’s Evaluation Roundtable and Charity Evaluation Working Group (ChEW) – this ensures City Bridge Trust keeps up to speed with the latest social research and evaluative tools and techniques. This progress has also been helped by learning from the recovery efforts (at all levels) across London and the concerted ongoing efforts of the whole Trust team.

But it may be pertinent to view our journey as never ceasing, as we may want to change course and shift gears when required.

How do we get there?

The pandemic has given us much to think about, particularly revisiting where we want to go in this new normal’ environment and how we get there. We’ve taken action over the last 18 months to navigate around difficult terrain, while remaining responsive and delivering at pace to our funded organisations.

We are excited for the future. We have tried to keep the communication channels between City Bridge Trust and funded organisations open throughout the pandemic.

To reduce the burden on funded organisations, we only collected data that we absolutely needed for our legal, accountability and evaluative learning requirements. We also listened to people’s stories so we can ensure decision making is always based on need and grounded in robust evidence. We will continue to adopt this process moving forward, remaining flexible and adaptable.

As part of our dynamic learning agenda, we are also:

  • Developing a Data Strategy’, ensuring we are always equitable in our data monitoring and collection, asking the right questions at the right time, benchmarking ourselves and collaborating on a cross sector data standard’.
  • Running a programme of learning activities for colleagues, including regular data digests’, lunch and learn‘ sessions and deep dives into key topics, which keep us up to speed on current socio-economic issues across London.
  • Developing an external learning programme for and with our funded organisations which will build collaborative relationships and drive effective feedback loops.
  • Revising our theory of change so intended outcomes and impact reflect what Londoners now need from our funding streams. It will also signal to us what the mechanisms of change’ could be (connected to our distinct programmes), our assumptions of what could work (to achieve our aims), and what are the enabling factors.

From all of this we can ensure we are in the right gear to provide support. You never know what is round the corner.

This blog was first published by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR) on 15th October 2021.