Background: What is "experience capitalization"?

There is a general recognition that a large part of the knowledge that is being generated by projects in the context of development work is lost, or that information is not shared, and that the benefits of successful actions or projects are therefore limited. Often it is only in situ, that one can see the results and impact of a project. Lessons learned as a result of a project are often not shared within an organization, let alone with other organizations. Projects often dedicate little time to reflect upon their work, to draw lessons and to share them, so most of the knowledge created remains implicit or tacit (Villeval and Delville, 2004). Furthermore, conventional evaluation approaches fail to overcome linear cause-effect logic models and thus cannot capture and map the complex dynamics and interdependencies, or the curves and bumps of an intervention (Tapella and Rodriguez Bilella, 2014).


Experience capitalization refers to the process by which implicit knowledge is made explicit and shared widely. As a collective process, it helps a team to look at their own practice and learn from it, and as a result of this learning process, improve its practice. Sharing the main lessons with outsiders helps other projects improve or adapt their work, or avoid others to reinvent the wheel.

Key elements

In general, this is a process which can help organizations improve the effectiveness of rural development interventions, and contribute towards innovative solutions, with the in-depth analysis of what has been done and what has been learnt in the field. Experience Capitalization is a methodology by which “real life” experiences are identified, analyzed, shared and used to bring about innovation. This may occur through the improvement of existing practices in their original context, through the adoption or scaling up of good and promising practices into new contexts, as well as through their adaptation in the implementation of future activities, leading to a desirable change. Experience Capitalization ensures that practical experiences are captured, and that tangible “capital” is created from them. This takes the form of shareable knowledge which can also be used to assess what works and what doesn’t, ultimately leading to more effective and successful development interventions.

Some of the key principles of Experience Capitalization are that it is a participatory and gender-sensitive approach, and that through the inclusion of multiple stakeholders it transcends the subjectivity of individual perceptions, contributing to an unbiased and objective understanding. It helps identify specific innovations and practices, and understand the reasons behind success or failure. It can help provide evidence, supporting advocacy efforts. And an additional benefit is that through the involvement of different participants in the process, both the capacities of and the collaborative relationships between these participants are strengthened.

But while the benefits are many, these are only possible if different conditions are met. The successful implementation of a process that involves many different persons, and which takes place in different settings and during a relatively long period of time, needs to have the support of the institutions in charge of all activities. Sufficient information must be available, and participants must be interested and willing to join every initiative. Its participants are the most important “ingredient” of a capitalization process. But in addition to being motivated, they must also be able to put it in practice, with the necessary tools, and with the skills and abilities that are needed to select an experience, describe it in detail, analyze it, draw conclusions and share them, and to use the lessons learnt.

© 2018, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint institution operating under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the ACP Group of States (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) and the EU Member States (European Union). CTA is funded by the European Union.