We Are All Leaders of Learning

December 8, 2020 by Jana Repanšek

If you read this text, there is a chance you work for the public good. I am sure you have dreams and aspirations for your personal and professional life. I certainly do. We all have dreams and aspirations that drive us in achieving our goals. We want to lead meaningful lives, also by contributing to societies that are fair.

A fair society requires a successful economy, just as a successful economy depends on a fair society. We got this confirmed by the economic and financial crisis about a decade ago, and we can also see it now. The covid-19 pandemic has generated the worst health, economic and social crisis in our lifetime.  No country, community or team has been spared. 

Of course, the CEF team has not been spared either. About 95% of our activities in 2019 took place in person at the CEF headquarters and in countries around the region. With the covid-19 pandemic, we quickly adapted to the new reality and kept going to support public officials in their learning and knowledge sharing – 100% online. It was not easy. In the first weeks, we had doubts whether people would have interest and access to our digital platforms. They did, and they also found their way to connect to us and learn.

Why were we able to do it? There are above all two reasons:

  • By adjusting our organizational culture, governance, systems and processes, we had been for a number of years deliberately preparing for situations where our high flexibility would be needed. This allowed a quick, decentralized and harmonized reaction of the entire team.
  • We set to ourselves where to devote our energy and focus. Our first focus has been on us, our families and our well-being. Only by making sure that we are all well, we have been able to deliver within our second focus: to implement our work program and adjust it to the new reality. The third focus has been on our longer-term strategic direction. In this regard, we’ve been thinking how the CEF will transform in the next years in line with the changes in the world. 

Policy design in this changing world has become extremely complex. It requires unprecedented leadership based on credible data and analysis. It is highly demanding for policy-makers who must be rigorous and cautious on one hand, and imaginative and daring on the other. They must act quickly but also take time to fully grasp this complexity. This is a lot to ask from one person. 

The quality of work of individuals—policy-makers and other leaders in public institutions, regardless of the level on which they operate—crucially depends on the governance of these institutions. Good governance begins with shared principles and values but it also requires an enabling environment. According to EUPAN , there are five enablers that boost institutions to perform at their best: leadership, strategy and planning, people management, processes management, and partnerships and resources. They determine how an institution approaches its tasks to achieve the desired results. 

Individuals—all leaders in their own right—therefore shape governance, which in return provides an enabling environment to these same individuals. An important question is what leaders should focus on to influence governance that drives successful economies and fair societies. Again, maintaining focus is especially important in the time of crisis, as this allows us to keep calm, keep going, and maintain resilience. 

In my experience, confirmed by the current crisis, there are two areas where we as leaders must focus in support of resilience. They are both equally important and supportive of each other. The first one maintains operational continuity and the second one supports innovation and transformation:

  • To maintain operational continuity, leaders must obtain and analyze data to understand what’s going on, manage financial resources, deploy skills at every level, and manage risks to plan for what comes after. 
  • To support innovation and transformation, leaders must build and sustain trust, demonstrate care by acknowledging others’ and one’s own vulnerability, and encourage contribution and wide collaboration. 


To be successful, we must assume authority and then delegate it when and where needed. We must listen and communicate with people around us. And we must, of course, make decisions. 

As much as policy design is a complex undertaking, this complexity is further increased in its implementation. This is especially true in the times of crisis. There are two things we must keep in mind when implementing policies. First, we are not or do not need to be alone in our journey. Second, we must remain open for learning and adjusting as we go. 

My aspiration in the last years has been that the CEF continues to support individuals, teams and institutions in learning and leading change. This is beyond being a mere training institution; this is about providing a platform for experts to share knowledge among each other how to design and implement meaningful changes. These changes are often called structural reforms. 

We at the CEF are experts of learning. We have studied and tested a number of frameworks, methodologies, tools, and approaches that provide a structure for effective networking, learning and knowledge sharing. In the context of policy design and implementation (or structural reforms), the following three are worth attention:

  • Formation of practitioners’ networks or communities of practice (CoP). CoPs are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”. CoPs can function as support groups, and as sources of information and learning. 
  • Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation (PDIA), developed by the Harvard University’s Building State Capability and described as a “process of facilitated emergence which focuses on problems (not solutions) and follows a step by step process (not a rigid plan) that allows for flexible learning and adaptation” .
  • Organizational Knowledge Sharing (OKS), developed by the World Bank. This framework presents eight pillars of knowledge-sharing capabilities. When addressed, they can become a powerful institutional force to bring about change and promote reforms. 

We can make things happen when we focus and have a dream: a long-term vision of what we want to achieve. We can design and implement changes by also securing finances and other resources. Our job is not simple and it takes time. It can be done when we focus on not only what we have to do, but also how we do it and why we do it. We can connect to networks to get inspired. This way we also commit to constant learning which multiplies results and brings innovation. 

We all have dreams and aspirations that drive us in achieving our goals. They guide us to lead a meaningful life. Each of us is a leader in our own right. Our strength comes from knowledge and networks we belong to. We enable each other’s learning and with this, we are leaders of our own learning . 




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