What is People Focus at the CEF?

June 28, 2022 by Polona Sirnik, Ajda Turk, Robert Bauchmüller

CEF strategic direction for 2022-26 says that putting the learner at the center of our activities is essential in our work. “We aim to make things happen together, adapting flexibly and innovatively to the changes we notice in our environment, the learning needs we capture, and the feedback we receive. To better understand our target audiences, we will carry out deeper analysis of the data we have on different audiences to learn more about their work, aspirations and needs to ultimately provide them with better learning experiences.” To develop a clearer understanding of what people-focus means for us, we organized at the start of the strategy implementation a CEF team retreat and gathered our different perspectives, which we hereby summarize.

For our people-focus, we consider a culture of respecting each other and our diversity as a crucial starting point – we are all of the same value while we have different talents, skills, knowledge, needs and aspirations. Acknowledging and understanding them within the wider ecosystem within which we learn and share knowledge, we can deliver more together and be more creative and innovative.

Effective and open communication is the key to making a people-focus work. We need to actively listen to each other, and hear what we have to say to each other. And, to develop and bring out our strengths, we learn from feedback – giving and seeking constructive feedback provides us a basis for learning and hence for growth, both as individuals as well as teams. At our events, we do this, for example, by incorporating a range of feedback loops.

Our people-focus is a growth-focus. We aim to understand the aspirations and what motivates each individual to grow, and what they need to move forward. This entails feeling the safety to test new thoughts and learn from failure, and ensuring that individuals, teams and institutions can link their work to the higher-level outcomes. Monitoring and evaluating the results achieved and making everybody’s contribution visible, increase motivation and promotes opportunities to learn from each other.


Our partners have been recognizing our people approach for a long time, e.g., in the way we are implementing it in all parts of our program via participatory approaches, and how close we work with HR departments of institutions and thus address their learning of individuals, teams and institutions; and in stimulating a change in mindset towards a culture of knowledge sharing and learning.

We got familiar with the concept of human-centered design that involves people to whom the activities of the organization are dedicated in all steps of the process including design of the activities, implementation phase as well as evaluation phase all to make them tailored made to their needs as much as possible. On the individual, teams and institutional levels, we are striving to address the content that our participants find useful for their learning. We are actively involving them in the learning process and feeding lessons learned into the design of future learning initiatives. Most recently, we also started working with teams through activities that aim at collaborative problem solving and action planning. Here we aim to introduce some new participatory approaches such as team building, also we aim to support individuals with coaching. And, on the institutional level, we will help transform institutional approaches to stimulating learning and knowledge sharing, thus becoming learning organizations. We will do this, for example, by organizing high-level meetings to raise awareness.

We are aware of our strengths but also understand that we have to improve our competencies (knowledge, skills, attitude, and behavior) continuously. We have identified challenges and opportunities for growth that will make us even better. Having a growth mindset and dealing with change requires special attention. The same applies to our communication skills, building trust and relationships, and tackling knowledge gaps that occur when people change roles and positions within their institutions. We plan to prioritize our work as working with people (and not for people), accepting diversity and tailor-made solutions requires human and financial resources. The people-focus approach is our strategic focus. We will keep supporting officials to be involved in regional cooperation through learning and knowledge sharing, and at the same time grow to be a continuous learning organization. “As leaders in learning we will inspire individuals, teams, and institutions to shape institutional governance that drives successful economies and fair societies.” (CEF Strategic Direction 2022-2026) We are confident that together (as people) we can make things happen.

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