Building Better Government: Why Organizational Learning is Important for Progress


Organizational learning is a facet of organizational development that strives to take prior experiences and incorporate the knowledge obtained into future processes, for purposes of improving the organization. For the government sector, organizational learning is pivotal to building better government. From process improvement to providing better service to citizens, it is a driving force behind making governmental departments of all types operate more effectively. In this post, we will discuss why organizational learning is so important for progress.


The Role of Organizational Learning in the Public Sector

In Modernizing Government, it is asserted that “the Public Service must become a learning organization.” The idea behind this statement is that OL would play a significant role in creating more responsive, high-quality public services (Modernizing Government, Minister for the Cabinet Office, 1999).

For government services, organizational learning contains a number of basic components, which include:

  1. Knowledge Management – capture, collection and storage of knowledge resources, as well as the ability to access resources for purposes on institutional learning

  2. Organizational learning motivation and systems – long-term methods for structuring systems to achieve organizational learning, as well as incentives/motivations for public service workers

  3. Multi-loop learning – focus on efficiencies, effectiveness, and how to improve processes


How Can Organizational Learning Help Build Better Government?

According to the Canada Public Service Agency, organizational learning can help achieve very particular objectives, including:

  • Building a skilled, well-trained and professional workforce

  • Strengthening organizational leadership

  • Adopting leading edge management practices

  • Encouraging innovation and continuous improvements in performance

All internal benefits brought by organizational learning then, circle back to the key goal of providing a more efficient, effective service to citizens. In particular, organizational learning promotes improvement is these areas in order to achieve this goal.


Internal Processes

Since organizational learning focuses on looking at what is being done and has been done historically in order to identify and implement improvements, a major benefit of it is that it helps to make processes more efficient. This can manifest in a variety of ways; it can focus on more efficient workforce management to better serve citizens; it can help employee retention to maintain and leverage cumulative knowledge and experience; it can focus on departmental service processes that facilitate citizen requests; or it can be applied to improve some other internal process.


Knowledge Sharing & Collaboration

Organizational learning doesn’t necessarily operate in departmental silos. It can also be used to help promote knowledge sharing and collaboration in between and across departments. With the right organizational learning systems and motivations in place, along with strong management buy-in, government departments can leverage institutional knowledge to better store, sort, access and retrieve information to help service citizens more effectively.

Ultimately, organizational learning facilitates the building of better government by creating an environment based on improvement through the leveraging of ongoing training, improvement of institutional knowledge, and better resource management. If implemented effectively, the result in stronger management and a more skilled, knowledgeable workforce – which translates to better citizen service. 

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