Adopting an EC approach in Bhutan

Karma Wangmo

My first introduction to the EC came out as a blessing; I was in dire need of a concrete, or at least, more structured system to guide my documentation process. When I started on the exercises in the EC workshop in Goa, I had been writing several case stories. But, because I didn’t have a proper framework to guide me, I’d left much of my work half-finished. I was unhappy with it; it was incomplete because most of the papers I was writing were started on an ad hoc basis, somehow unplanned, so their quality was compromised.

Moreover, I used to think that reporting was only about capturing successful stories, positive lessons, or productive experiences. I also never pictured the target audience in my head when I was writing, and didn’t really plan what I was trying to disseminate. To be fair, I found writing to be a tedious process. Consequently my writing was plain, unsynchronized, and uninspiring.

Trying it out

The effects of an Experience Capitalisation workshop
However, my entire understanding of the purpose of writing changed once I was introduced to the processes involved with Experience Capitalisation. I learnt many things at the EC workshop. The most prominent of these, in my opinion, are the clear steps, or processes, which one can follow to create a well-articulated and interesting document. It is with pleasure that I admit that I can now follow the EC processes – such as setting the objectives, selecting the case study, setting boundaries, gathering information, organizing the information, analyzing, and concluding – and my reports are much easier to write and, dare I say, more satisfying to read.

Similarly, through EC, I now understand that it is as equally important as it is valuable to capture those cases and activities which didn’t turn out well; writing up these experiences means that others can avoid similar outcomes in future activities. Moreover, I don’t find it difficult to write up our experiences anymore. The EC processes are clear: my work heads in the right direction from the start. In fact, I now make a note of every little thing, no matter how apparently inconsequential, because often the consequences become apartment later. I credit this new practice to EC, and the team of facilitators at the workshop where I learnt the various techniques I now use.

How Experience Capitalisation differs from standard M&E
In the past, Monitoring & Evaluation in our country has been all about “facts and figures.” We had to concentrate on gathering and reporting the data, and the data, and then more data. Standard M&E is generally concerned with the quantitative information; the number of beneficiaries, or the length of the irrigation network, the area under citrus cultivation, and so forth. It only records the physical coverage of any activity or the intervention. My personal feeling is that standard M&E lacks something when it comes to capturing the essence of a project or event.

However, I think that Experience Capitalisation is the best approach that I’ve so far discovered to address these shortcomings. With EC, the raw data is better analyzed, which gives it more weight: where you previously had only simple facts, you now have explanation.
As an example, an M&E report might report that a total of 50 farmers can access irrigation water after a project. But EC processes can actually highlight whether those 50 farmers are actually deriving any benefits; or how the water has affected their livelihoods; and so on.

Adopting processes and approaches in my organisation
Honestly speaking, my colleagues and our organization haven’t yet been able to institutionalize the EC approaches that we’ve learnt. This is because new things take time to be adopted – especially when it comes into writing and documenting. Many of us find report-writing is a difficult habit to get in to; this may be due to a lack of a culture of proper writing, or not having a standardised system, which makes it difficult to balance reporting with the fieldwork we do.

Here in Bhutan, for example, more people are responsible for implementing projects than are designated to writing-up the results. Sometimes it can be a bit challenging to train colleagues in new trends, or new philosophies of writing, when they already feel overwhelmed by their other responsibilities.
However, a journey of a thousand miles starts under your feet – and we are slowly making progress. Our field staff and some of the office-bound project implementers are gradually getting to grips with this new trend in informative writing. I am hopeful that within a year, or two at most, EC processes will have been institutionalized in our organization. Right now, we’re only talking about baby-steps. But I will be on hand to help anyone who wants to know more about the processes, and they’ll be able to rely on me – and my own work-related writing will highlight EC processes. It is a great concept for promoting and capitalising on any experiences, lessons, and teachings.

The way forward
The adoption of Experience Capitalisation by our organisation is, like many new techniques, catching on slowly. We are planning new ways to encourage the adoption and institutionalisation of these processes. We are implementing an annual “writeshop”, where all the field staff will get together to write stories about the work they are doing and, importantly, about the people with whom they are working. Ultimately, our organisation will adopt these well-founded principles, and we’ll write informative and illuminating reports and stories: and I am grateful to CTA for introducing me to Experience Capitalisation processes.

© 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.