Designing for Learning: One Foundation’s Efforts to Institutionalize Organizational Learning


The California Health Care Foundation (CHCF) has developed a number of ways to capture lessons from its grantmaking, including through results reports and learning sessions. Yet in 2012 the foundation sought to go beyond the goal of simply documenting lessons to applying them, and needed a process that would motivate staff to adapt how they work in light of what they and their colleagues had learned through years of making grants to improve health care in California.

Foundation staff identified two goals for this effort: increase the effectiveness of the organization and improve the grantmaking skills of its staff, with the belief that achieving these goals would help to maximize CHCF’s impact.

To engage the organization in learning, staff were led through a process that applied design thinking — a methodology used to develop solutions to abstract, ill-defined, or complex problems. Through brainstorming and crowdsourcing ideas, prototyping, and user testing, foundation staff members were able to create a “grantmaking toolbox” with more than 50 new, effective, and innovative grantmaking practices and summaries of how to best use them.

In addition to creating the grantmaking toolbox, the design thinking process fostered cross-program collaboration, encouraged innovation and creativity, and helped to reveal these key insights about organizational learning:

  • Effective learning is a collaborative, rather than an individual, process.
  • A willingness to experiment is an important aspect of a learning culture.
  • Staff of varying experience levels all have significant roles in organizational learning efforts.

CHCF’s experience could encourage other foundations to experiment with new approaches to learning and innovative methods to identify the learning needs of staff members — and perhaps grantees.

To learn more about the process undertaken by CHCF, read the article “Designing for Learning: One Foundation’s Efforts to Institutionalize Organizational Learning” on The Foundation Review website.

Also, a related blog post, “Design Thinking for Evaluation and Learning,” is available on the Stanford Social Innovation Review website.