older adults are leading change


Discover and Adapt


Doing innovative work requires a willingness to make mistakes and the ability to learn from the experience. Learning is an underlying principle of this work,for everyone involved and at all levels. It’s important to convene partners and older adults on a regular basis to reflect on the work and learn together—to capture the lessons from successes and failures, and apply them to improve results.

The ability to discover and adapt is important because course corrections will inevitably be needed to fine-tune processes, close gaps, change messaging, and develop new strategies to meet needs as they arise. Additional adaptations may be needed to meet challenges posed by changes in the larger environmental context, such as economic downturns and the increased demands placed on both nonprofits and older adult participants as a result. Balancing flexibility and focus is key to success.

Effective Practices for Discovery and Adaptation

Learn and share knowledge.

Take time to reflect. True learning takes time and focus. Acknowledge your successes and mistakes, and use the opportunity for growth and improvement. Examine what has and has not worked.

Create pathways to share knowledge. Learning communities are a great way to “spread the learning around.” They can provide access to experts, information, ideas, technical support. Above all, learning communities help stakeholders benefit from their relationships with each other. Members renew energy and focus, and build capacity together.

Offer ongoing learning and networking opportunities for partners, community organizations, and older adults. Facilitate communication and relationship building, provide guidance, and offer continued education.

Evaluate for learning as well as accountability. Capture information on the level of engagement by older adults and other stakeholders; indicators of progress; and outputs and outcomes. Use surveys, interviews, anecdotes, and other types of feedback. Be targeted in what you collect from partners, older adult participants, and the population served: figure out what is most important to track and focus on that.

Document and disseminate knowledge and achievements. Share successes, challenges, and the lessons learned from your project and process through community convening, newsletters, websites, and other communication vehicles.

Apply lessons to refine your strategy and/or implementation.

Embrace learning as a process. Keep feedback channels open. Be flexible, adapt the work, make revisions, and correct course. Consider refining your existing strategy. Look at ways to adjust how you execute your strategy. Adjust communications as needed to adapt to cultural language differences so messages will resonate with potential participants from diverse communities.

Tailor trainings to address issues and challenges as they emerge. Revise plans as needed.

Keep partners focused. Regular discussions about progress and challenges are effective, especially when partners get sidetracked by multiple demands or unforeseen circumstances.

Learn from the experience of partnering. Challenges, difficulties, and success in partnerships can help to refine future partner selection and streamline collaborative processes.

Evolve and manage change.

Anticipate growing pains. Expanding work and the number of participants may present new difficulties. As new leaders step up, new lines of communication form, creating new challenges. Clearly articulated roles and communication enable renewed commitment to helping the project move forward.

Refine tools, processes, and models that can be replicated in other organizations in the community and beyond. Disseminate knowledge and materials. Develop education and training efforts to facilitate adaptation of the model in additional communities and for other community issues.

Seize opportunities to promote positive perceptions and an asset-based understanding of older adult contributions. Highlight achievements and the value of engaging older adults with the larger community. Benefits may include innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions; improved outcomes; new programs; reduced expenses; new funding sources; and heightened community involvement.


Free guides and tools you may find useful include The Learning Community Advantage: How Collective Insight Creates Lasting Impact and other publications about adaptive learning; third-party resources to help community-based organizations plan and conduct program evaluations; sample program evaluations from initiatives that engaged older adults to create change; and more.

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