Institutionalization – where are we?

For almost three years, the “Capitalization of Experiences for Greater Impact in Rural Development” project has been working with projects and organizations in different parts of the world, validating an experience capitalization approach as an efficient way to look back at a particular development initiative, to document it and share lessons, and to encourage their adoption. More than 400 participants have gone through the different steps involved, and completed a capitalization process. But the main objective of the project was not to complete a set of processes. More ambitiously, it was to encourage the adoption of the approach: its regular use by these projects and organizations, and therefore the regular identification of lessons and recommendations.

Largely as a result of the work done by many facilitators, it is now possible to see many cases where this institutionalization process is already taking place. With the specific purpose of analysing these cases in detail, CTA organised a workshop in Amsterdam during the third week of February 2019. This meeting was meant to help identify the main factors behind an effective institutionalization initiative, and to help CTA share them with all those involved in the project and with all those interested in starting a new experience capitalization process. A total of 25 persons joined this workshop, representing the organizations, countries and regions involved in the project during the past three years.

Steps towards institutionalization
The meeting started by reviewing the main concepts and ideas shared with all participants in previous workshops: what do we mean by institutionalization? What are the main factors behind it? How do words like “adoption” and “institutionalization” relate to each other? We discussed the need to make sure that there are resources available, but also institutional support, motivated participants and clear procedures. And we also looked at the end-goal: we can talk of “having achieved” institutionalization when there are clear roles and responsibilities, a training scheme for new staff members, and when the results are regularly shown.

Participants were then divided into separate groups and were asked to identify the main steps required to ensure positive results – as seen in their own organizations. Their discussions showed the need to organise an internal awareness-raising campaign, ensuring there is a common understanding of the approach within the organization; to organise a regular capacity development programme; to organise monthly seminars, and invite all staff members; prepare a “how-to” guidebook; or include experience capitalization in the performance indicators in each unit.

Next, we looked at the end-goal again: if we have been working towards the institutionalization of the capitalization approach, is it possible to show results? Participants were asked to prepare an infographic, as a “graphic representation of information, data or knowledge” used to share it quickly with a broad audience. Although prepared in a relatively short time, these diagrams helped identify a few key indicators – all of which can be used to show the results of the institutionalization efforts taking place: the number of internal meetings planned to discuss experience capitalization, the number of members of a thematic community of practice, the availability of funds / resources, the number of champions or the number of champions mentoring other colleagues.

Preparing an article
Before coming to Amsterdam, all participants had prepared a draft document presenting the steps taken by their organizations to adopt the experience capitalization approach, and showing the results seen so far. Using these draft documents, and in the same way as during a general training session focusing on writing and documentation, we looked at a few general principles to consider when preparing an article (e.g. the need to write with a specific target audience in mind) and the general steps to follow (e.g. prepare a first draft, look for feedback, etc.). Then we looked at a tentative structure: if we all prepare a 2000-word article, what should be the key elements that cannot be missing? Working in groups, participants identified a few of these elements, such as the specific need (or demand) for experience capitalization in an organization (as a specific approach to solve a recognisable problem); the general context, both internal and external; the specific steps taken: training session, a search for funds and resources, publications, lobbying and advocacy activities, networking, etc.; the main challenges seen (e.g. language barriers, lack of time); the role of the facilitator; the establishment of links with the existing M&E processes; the main changes seen as a result of the adoption of the approach (e.g. better projects); or the upcoming steps and future plans.

Participants then had time to adjust the draft version they had prepared, and to improve it. Next, they were asked to review each other’s work. They all shared their articles with two or three persons in the room, and read two or three articles, providing comments. As “peer reviewers”, they were all asked to ask for additional information, or to invite the author to provide an explanation. The resulting twenty-five articles will be printed soon.

Next steps
During the last day we focused on the steps needed to consolidate the results seen, and on those steps needed to support other organizations’ adoption of the experience capitalization approach. Participants were asked to present their ideas in a card, among which they recommended, for example, organising a mentorship and training programme; writing a guidebook on how to institutionalize this approach in development organizations; developing an experience capacitation curriculum for development students, practitioners; or assigning specific resources to measure the impact of the experience capitalization process (how EC improves learning and performance).

The last session followed the “world café” method, focusing on a potential new global initiative. Different groups were asked to look at a specific issue in detail, and then share the main results in a plenary. Building on the main issues raised in the previous session, this general discussion showed that a new global initiative should focus on
(a) the adoption of the main lessons learnt with a capitalization process, going through a similar process; focusing both on our own organization and on others (with exchange visits and different information-sharing mechanisms);
(b) the ongoing community of practice, benchmarking the KM4Dev concept; opening the COP space to many others (also outside our projects); establishing clear rules and regulations for participation; developing a calendar of activities and integrating virtual and physical mechanisms;
(c) supporting the emerging pool of facilitators: making all names easily visible (in an online register or directory), training champions, supporting all new members, promoting innovations in facilitation (and documenting and sharing the results seen by every facilitator), providing a certificate as evidence of the skills and experience gained;
(d) the links between on organization’s M&E systems and experience capitalization: identifying the specific demand for lessons within an organization; and
(e) the need to show the impact which organizations see as a result of the adoption of the approach: organizing an impact assessment and collecting evidence, and sharing these results on the basis of a thorough communications strategy.

This was the last meeting organised by CTA’s experience capitalization project, and one which brought together participants representing the different organization with whom we worked, in different parts of the world. Although only a small number of persons could join, it was very good to focus on the main objective of the project, and to be able to see that all the steps taken during the past three years effectively led to the adoption of the experience capitalization approach.

© 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.