Rules for Collaborative Inquiry



  • Bring participating grantees and consultants into program governance, including the design and implementation of the collaborative learning program from the start.
  • Give responsibility, invest in it, staff it.
  • Expediency, efficiency, foundation policy, and culture will limit the authority of the program officer to engage participants as fully as possible.
  • Money will be short, but strive to maximize engagement.


  • Eliminate hierarchy, reduce power imbalance, and banish “experts”— i.e., treat all participants as both sources and recipients of knowledge.
  • In particular, value practitioners as knowledge builders.
  • The power imbalance between grantmaker and grantee will not disappear. Strive to make the hierarchy as flat as possible, and be ever vigilant and honest about it.


  • Communicate agendas and constraints completely and with honesty and integrity.
  • It’s never possible for a grantmaker to discuss every last thing about the foundation’s internal constraints and agendas.
  • Try to make your translucency as transparent as possible.


  • Create objectives, timelines, and budget line items that can evolve in response to what is being learned.
  • Invest in the time it takes to build relationships.
  • It’s often hard to make grants with all the flexibility needed for the learning process.
  • Sometimes re-granting intermediaries can help.
  • Strive to create internal foundation mechanisms that can be responsive to positive change.


  • Reduce the stakes for failure and promote the value of learning from mistakes.
  • Mistakes and even failures will happen: not all grantees will measure up to agreed-upon standards or outcomes.
  • An organization might need to be dropped from the collaborative. Strive up front to establish and describe expectations and consequences as clearly as possible.


  • Let inquiry guide action. Formulate questions, gather data, test knowledge in the real world. Be willing to reject hypotheses.
  • Everyone has trouble rejecting hypotheses — program officers with their guidelines and policies, and community leaders with their years of experience and organizational norms.
  • Both sides need to work hard on this, and to challenge one another.


  • Hold one another to a high standard of learning skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors.
  • Grantmakers will have an easier time holding others accountable than being so themselves.
  • Strive to “learn along with” the group, and practice the preaching.

Takeaways are critical, bite-sized resources either excerpted from our guides or written by Candid Learning for Funders using the guide's research data or themes post-publication. Attribution is given if the takeaway is a quotation.

This takeaway was derived from Learning Together.