As part as our work with multiple stakeholders at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT, its Spanish acronym), we developed a methodological tool to rescue learnings from those who implement initiatives with which we collaborate, and to share things that we are not used to sharing in typical reports.
The big difference in this tool, with regard to other tools for capitalizing on learning, is who does the capitalizing: the people involved in project execution (themselves), mostly technical advisors who work in the field with people. We know that this approach challenges the presumption of objectivity, but we do not primary care about objectivity—we care more about the learning of those people who almost never use their time to reflect on their experiences and share their valuable knowledge.
Capitalization through its own actors
The project “Alliance to Create Opportunities for Rural Development through Agro-enterprise Relationships” (ACORDAR) looked to convert supply chains into value chains under an approach that combines agro-enterprise development, gender, and municipalism. To achieve this, the project created technical committees (management teams) for each chain, formed by representatives (technical advisors and assistants) of the national and local partners involved in the project. These committees were responsible for boosting the actions and articulating the field efforts.
For that reason, the capitalization process was carried out through these committees. The idea was to develop their documentation and reflection skills believing that, in that way, we would achieve three things: the people involved would learn what they had learned and how to share it with others, this knowledge would be registered and ready for sharing, and peers would know what they did, how, with whom, and the most important thing—which actions they should repeat and which they shouldn’t, and why.
This experience was the last we had in 2012. It was a valuable experience for us not only because it was the last one (among others), but also because:
- It was the first time we could get the capitalization process to be considered from the beginning of a project.
- It was a project of large dimension (and we didn’t know whether our tool would work at this level): five years of field work, more than 7700 producer family-beneficiaries, almost 200 organizations working in alliance, 50 municipalities covered, 25 local governments involved, and most of the 100 technical advisors and assistants learning and sharing their knowledge.
- We had the opportunity to work previously with some of the people involved in this project (at different levels, including team leaders). We had conducted some workshops on capitalization and we had the opportunity to emphasize to participants the importance of documenting their actions and reflections and capitalizing on their learning to make better decisions.
- We were able to carry out a preliminary capitalization process in 2010 (when the first phase of the project finished) and a “total” capitalization in 2012, when the project was concluding.
The coaching process
The coaching process (through five years) had four important moments:
- Initial workshop in 2008. Participants learned the methodology and applied it in different experiences (of free choice) for learning by doing.
- Preliminary capitalization process in 2010. We followed this process because 2010 was the initial finish date of the project. This process had two parts: (i) a four-day workshop in which the participants applied the methodology while they reflected on the information collected and their own experiences for shaping this in a short learning report; (ii) and a feedback phase in which we, as facilitators, made revisions and gave the participants comments to improve the final documents for sharing.
- Monitoring phase. Alternating meetings and field applications for identifying areas of change and collecting sensitive information that we thought we would need for the final capitalization (reports, photographs, interviews, etc.).
- Final capitalization process in 2012. The same method as in 2010.
The methodology applied in the workshops is an adaptation developed by CIAT starting in 2007 from different authors: A framework from Berdagué and others, 2002 (initial situation, intervention process, final or current situation, and lessons learned), and some exercises from Berdagué and others, and Ashby & Douthwaite, 2004, for helping people to remember what they have lived; visualize the changes; identify how the context has influenced, for better or worse, their results; and how they can extract conclusions from their experiences.
In the workshops, this tool is presented to the people (through a guide and group exercises) piece by piece, in a way in which they can apply it while remembering, reflecting, and shaping their conclusions. At the end of the workshops, the participants receive a short manual with suggestions for converting their conclusions into a short learning report for sharing. The framework for the group exercise, the methodological guide, and the manual for writing is always the same.
The capitalization process in 2010 produced as a result three learning reports (one for the experiences in each chain: bean, coffee, and cocoyam, or Xanthosoma sagittifolium), five stories of change, and a documental video that gathers the principal conclusions of the reports and the stories.
The capitalization process in 2012 produced 12 learning reports (five about the chain experiences: bean, cacao, coffee, cocoyam, and vegetables and fruits; one about agro-enterprise development as a cross-cutting theme; four about gender; and two more about municipalism) and eight stories of change. However, the most important result is that people improved their skills for capitalizing and sharing their own knowledge. Some participants are now applying the tool and the learning in their organizations and we will replay this experience in Nicaragua in a new project that will be developed by some of the ACORDAR leaders.
The great teachers: Difficulties and learnings
We had many difficulties throughout this process, but these were the ones that taught us more lessons: people who applied the methodology had many responsibilities and they were busy all the time. Then, we learned that people don’t need more work—they need for us to make their work easier. Now, we are thinking about how to make the tool more useful. On the other hand, the lack of coordination between the capitalization process and monitoring and evaluation made these people work more and, sometimes, double their efforts. Better coordination will not only make it easier for participants, but will also improve the results for both areas.
In 2010, a large difficulty was not finding enough information for recreating the experiences (data, photographs, interviews with producers). Then, we learned that better documentation is better capitalization. For that reason, we carried out the monitoring phase after that, and this helped us to collect not more but better information. Still, in 2012, this difficulty persisted, but less so. The coaching process and learning need repetition for improvement.
Until now, we have not found the pathways for sharing the learning reports in an effective way. We know that tremendous knowledge is found in these reports but we are still seeking how to connect this learning with those who need it, and we are looking into how to share it better and receive feedback on it.