Writing in a writeshop

Israel Bionyi

In 1987 the term writeshop was coined to describe a flexible process, similar to ‘knowledge harvesting, which facilitates knowledge capturing and packaging for communication simultaneously. It was developed by the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) during a workshop to produce a kit for “Regenerative Agriculture Technology” in the Philippines.

It is defined as “a participatory way of packaging knowledge over a short period”. It helps document tacit “experiential” knowledge (which exists within our minds, invisible to others) turning it to explicit (exists in a visible form and explicable to others), by making it understandable and thus, more easily usable. This process is essential in improving communication materials and knowledge products. The writeshop approach is being used by many development organisations today to produce publications and other communication resources for various audiences.

Peer reviews

The approach in practice

CTA’s KM team familiarised itself and experimented in combining other KM techniques with the writeshop process during the ‘Experience Sharing on the implementation of ICT4Ag projects’ writeshop organised by CTA from 28 June to 1 July in Wageningen, the Netherlands.

The writeshop brought together partners from Burkina Faso, Ghana, The Netherlands, Sudan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uganda, who had been involved in 7 CTA funded projects on ICT for agriculture. The projects aimed at exploring viable models for scaling up ICT-based services within the agricultural sector through prototype activities across African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) countries in order to stimulate their adoption. The writeshop process consisted of bringing pairs of ICT service providers and beneficiary to share their stories.

Writeshop principles

The 4-day writeshop was guided by three principles: planning beforehand, adapting the process as it unfolds and having fun, as described by the workshop facilitator, Paul Mundy, development communications specialist.

Planning ahead. All parties began working several months before the meeting. One month before the meeting, the facilitation team engaged collaborations with participants. Writing templates for project reports, data forms, and meeting programme was shared. A collaboration platform (Dropbox) was used for drafting, editing, versioning, and storage. Participants further learned to include project reports, testimonials, and images from the field on the platform online. The facilitator also prepared his team of co-facilitators and co-editors, writeshop materials, and carefully created a mental map of the workshop process with the team.

Adjusting the writeshop approach as you go. Several methods introduced during the writeshop transformed the knowledge harvesting meeting into knowledge sharing sessions. Facilitators adapted the Business Model Canvas and the brainstorming method, gathering information from participants, while giving room for an elevator pitch on the business model of each project. The world cafe, fishbowl and after action review techniques catalysed transversal analysis and documentation of lessons from the different projects and facilitated knowledge sharing in all the sessions.

Having fun. Writing lessons tooled participants with skills to rewrite their project reports in a particular style. Continuous coaching throughout the writing process and peer reviews made sessions reflexive and interactive. Participants enjoyed critiquing and learning from each other’s work. The writeshop used two languages: French and English for facilitation. Participants wrote in their preferred languages and received editorial clinics on writing with Paul. The mix of dynamic activities adapted to the context kept up participant’s enthusiasm from day 1 to 4.

The writeshop provided a wide range of information for packaging on the ICT projects. It equally enhanced the project reports, making it persuasive, clear, and accurate. The experience further demonstrated that the writeshop approach is multi-dimensional, providing many diverse tools and approaches that serve the purpose of KM and communication at the same time.

© 2016, 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.