In 2011, IFAD’s East and Southern Africa Division asked ILEIA to support its regional knowledge management strategies by enhancing and supporting the documentation skills of IFAD project and government staff. The objective was to build hands-on skills and capacities in the documentation of the participants’ own practical experience by implementing a capacity building process in three countries. The process was to guide project staff in producing tangible documentation products (case studies, short articles, etc.) in a learning-by-doing mode, and in sharing these products in different ways; and to assist and advise IFAD M&E officers, KM and communication officers in the follow-up of documentation processes, aiming at having these incorporated in the ongoing project/ programme routines.
The process started in Ethiopia and was built as a “sandwich” model: two workshops and an online monitoring and support period (both between the meetings and after the second one). Meetings took place in April 2012, in DebreZeit, near Addis Ababa, and in the Amhara Management Institute, in BahirDar, in July, 2013, and included representatives of the Agricultural Marketing Innovation project (AMIP), the Pastoral Sustainable Irrigation Development Project (PaSIDP), and of the Pastoral Community Development Project (PCDP). There was also a representative of the Pastoral Welfare Organisation, PWO.
As a training process, participants were invited to start a systematization process, aiming at “learning by doing”. The process followed a five step approach, presented and tried during the first meeting:
- the selection of the experience to be documented, determining who was to participate in the process, and making a short work plan.
- setting the boundaries. The objective was to specify the experience to be documented, separating it from all that was done and achieved as part of a project, and in this way focusing on a concrete case. This meant looking at a specific location, identifying the main stakeholders, and determining the starting date and duration.
- A general description, focusing on everything that was done and achieved during the period of time chosen, including the unexpected results, the main difficulties faced, and the results or targets that were not reached.
- the analysis, as the moment to compile and present opinions, criticisms and value judgements about all that was done and achieved. Participants were asked first to define some criteria to assess the experience (considering, for example, its environmental impact, or its potential replicability). Indicators were then chosen for each criteria, and then used to look for “causes” or “reasons” behind the results seen in the field. Having completed the analysis, the next step involved identifying the main lessons learnt.
- the presentation of the results.
The second part of the “sandwich model” was meant as a continuation of the training process. At the same time, it was meant to help all participants come to a set of “knowledge products”, and to discuss how to share them widely. As such, additional attention was given to the structure of the documents being produced, and the need to organize all the information collected in a logical and coherent manner. We also looked at different ways of presenting information and ideas, and of reaching an audience, inviting all participants to take part in a role play.
- Motivation, capacity building, new skills: “The facilitation motivated me to stay through the workshop and sharpen my writing skills and interrogating my personal experiences”.
- Team work, linkages, sharing ideas, coming to common understandings among staff (and also with the staff pf other projects): “the spirit of team work was good and encouraging”.
- A final knowledge product: all stories were revised and edited, and after a few weeks, put together as a booklet: “Learning for rural change: 14 stories from Ethiopia”.
- A very concrete difficulty was starting the process; confirming the demand coming from the different country teams, prioritising the teams to work with, and agreeing on a specific date to meet.
- “My attendance was interrupted by office work. I would have loved to sit throughout the sessions. Maybe we should consider having this all far away from the participants’ work stations”
- “It would have been good to have a field visit to particular project sites. I think this process could be improved only giving us the participants enough time to go in the field and collect data”.
One of the lessons from this process related to the importance of a final, tangible product – in addition to the skills, or to the development of specific capacities. As all participants recognized, it is encouraging to see the results of such as a process, and to be able to share them widely. But we also identified other key issues:
- The selection of the experience to document. Participants found it useful to narrow their focus by concentrating on a specific experience and not on the whole project. The identification of this experience was made easier by focusing on the project’s unique selling point.
- Both workshops involved representatives of the different projects being implemented in different parts of the country. These representatives did not know each other, so our meetings were a good opportunity to get to know what other IFAD-funded projects are doing and achieving, and to exchange opinions. It was also positive to work with projects at a different implementation stage, showing that a documentation process is not meant to start at the end of a project.
- The group of participants included staff with different responsibilities and with different experience. This seemed to create difficulties at first in terms of participation, yet this heterogeneity was also beneficial, as it led to better discussions, both regarding the subject being documented, as in relation to the documentation process.
- The importance of the analysis. Participants mentioned the big difference between a descriptive document and an analytical one – and thus the importance of a complete and thorough analysis. Giving an opinion, and trying to substantiate claims, is always the most difficult part. Part of this, as was recognised by all participants, is because “we are not used to expressing negative things… we are always afraid that there might be misunderstandings…”. At the same time, it was not easy to come up with adequate criteria and indicators. Yet all teams identified several ideas that later helped them giving an opinion: their overall performance, the environmental impact, the potential sustainability of their project. This was a very good start to a complete analysis.
An evaluation at the end of the process showed the participants’ satisfaction with the process and with the final products. Yet additional work remains. While the final booklet is being distributed, it has not been possible to assess how the lessons drawn during the process have been, or are being taken up by the projects. At the same time, the process did not consider any follow up, or any preparation so that it is replicated within the projects, or in other IFAD-supported activities.