The foundation is committed to openness, transparency, and learning.

Our commitments to openness, transparency, and learning, while individually important, jointly express values that are vital to our work. Because our operations—both internal and external—are situated in complex institutional and cultural environments, we cannot achieve our goals without being an adaptive, learning organization. And we cannot be such an organization unless we are open and transparent: willing to encourage debate and dissent, both within and without the foundation; ready to share what we learn with the field and broader public; eager to hear from and listen to others. These qualities of openness to learning and willingness to adjust are equally important for both external grantmaking and internal administration.

Learning is a sensibility as much as it is a practice. It needs to be nurtured and encouraged. We seek out ideas, information, and approaches so we can learn from others, including those whose views diverge from ours. We prioritize learning over “being right” and emphasize its importance across the whole organization, empowering everyone to contribute to continuous improvement. Knowing it is necessary to take risks, we recognize and expect that sometimes things won’t work—in which case we ask why and make changes. We frame such efforts in terms of what we can learn, and we ask our staff, our grantees, and our other partners to be open and candid about both failure and success. We encourage this because failure and success are both part of our work, and we learn from both. Our mantra is “try, learn, adapt”—a philosophy we seek to cultivate in our grantees and in the sector generally, as well as in ourselves.

At the same time, we appreciate that our lessons often come, at least partly, at someone else’s expense. We should learn from failure and not worry about confessing error, but we should also work hard to avoid it—never forgetting that our mistakes have real consequences for real people. Which is also why, when we make mistakes, we need to share the lessons broadly.

Making what we have done, and are doing, visible facilitates learning and is part and parcel of being a learning organization. We should share what we are doing freely with grantees, the field, and the public. By doing so, we invite others to tell us why our approach may or may not be right and how it could be better. We empower intended beneficiaries as well as grantees to share reactions and give feedback, and we enable experts in relevant fields to offer criticism and advice. Broadly sharing information about our strategies and practices also encourages input from the wider public, whose welfare is our ultimate objective.

Openness and transparency can help build trust, but only if we are genuinely open to hearing what others have to say. Inviting feedback is meaningful only if we sincerely listen to new ideas, new perspectives, new approaches, and new ways of thinking. This is true of conversations among our own staff as much as discussions we have with others. We encourage an internal environment that is open to deliberation, in which staff as well as grantees and external partners are empowered to debate and dissent as part of a process of making decisions that—once made—we get behind and work together to execute.

Illustrative Practice:

  • Encouraging staff to participate in conferences, seminars, and peer networks, and supporting such networks and other organizations that strengthen the sector
  • Administering Grantee and Staff Perception Reports, and taking the resulting feedback seriously
  • Engaging or creating task forces and working groups to solicit feedback, encourage dialog, and develop recommendations for issues that arise
  • Openly licensing our own work product and requiring that project-funded research be openly licensed
  • Regularly convening grantees or subgroups of grantees, while helping grantees develop their own networks
  • Hosting regular conference calls with all of the foundation’s grantees as a group
  • Organizing cross-program and cross-foundation learning
  • Supporting professional development for staff
  • Sharing ideas through a variety of channels, and supporting efforts to promote foundation openness
  • Explaining our philanthropic strategies clearly, while being transparent about individual grants
  • Inviting speakers who disagree with our strategies to explain why and examining their challenges with them in a serious way