I was officially introduced to Experience Capitalisation at a CTA-organised workshop for Anglophone countries in Ghana, back in March, 2017. This followed up on a two-day meeting organised by a consultant (Laura Eggens) for CTA in Sierra Leone a month beforehand.
During the workshops our team was introduced to the methodologies of how the Experience Capitalisation documentation process differs from standard monitoring and evaluation. We also covered the concepts behind writing articles based on our work for wider dissemination to interested parties.
The workshop in Ghana improved our knowledge of the processes, and we were included in the EC network. We were charged with developing articles on topics based on our experiences and we decided to write our articles on the establishment of Community Banks in Sierra Leone, as some of our projects were coming to an end.
The tables we compiled provided readily-available information. In fact, we were a little surprised about how much information we had about different aspects of the project that we might ordinarily have missed – gender issues, the changing climate, as examples – and all of this really helped us to identify areas of interest. We used the EC methodologies to see how best we could capitalise on what we learnt from our experiences.
What’s different about Experience Capitalisation
The process differs from standard methods of monitoring and evaluation and knowledge management because of the way the information gathered is tabulated. Beforehand, the documentation was done through different report formats for different audiences – now we have a standardised format to gather information, through tables which allow us to properly record our activities. We can go back and do thorough research in order to find answers by teasing out facts which might ordinarily have been hidden.
We found that we could use the activity logs to identify what we did that was good, and what was not so good; what proved to be unexpected challenges, and what we did to solve to problems. Importantly, finding this out proved easier than before.
Our previous reports were detailed, but too disparate. Now the difference is that, by properly analysing and using the information in the templates and tables, we no longer have to do things in an ad hoc basis. We can capture better information by writing more bite-sized pieces. So, this means that we are able to develop more readable articles, which are more informative and interesting to stakeholders. We are better able to interest our readers in what was going on and what we were able to find out.
This is the real difference – the EC methodology helped us see that we didn’t ask what was going wrong before. There were questions we weren’t asking, we didn’t really go on and ask why we were doing certain things, and why we didn’t achieve results. The tables really brought out the answers – we found that a lot of the information was already there but we hadn’t been asking the right questions.
How the methodology changed what we report
We decided to align our reports to the EC methodology, which requires us to ask questions that we normally wouldn’t have, and to tabulate information that we did not previously require. Once we filled the table, wewere able to align it to someof our reports as an annex, and then we found out things we were a little surprised about.
For example, one unexpected result came from a table of information gathered on a project covering rural financial institutions in Sierra Leone. The project established community banks in rural communities. We had originally thought that due to the low levels of education people would be unlikely, or unwilling, to participate, but in fact there was an astonishing level of participation. We thought people would be somehow afraid of going to those banks, but after the project we found a very good turnout, because people had always wanted a service like this. People were very willing to participate in the scheme and take out our flexible loans because they were availablewithout requiring any sort of financial or solid collateral. Farmers may only need personal recommendations from chiefs – this is a situation not offered by commercial banks – and they realised that the project was there to help them come out of poverty.
Equally, we also found that keeping staff at the banks was much more problematic than we had expected, with many more resignations than we were prepared for. From the information we’d gathered, we realised that this was due to the low levels of infrastructure available to bank staff – many were unhappy to have been relocated from the city to rural areas. So we constructed staff quarters on common land donated by the communities – in some areas people had to give up their land and we had expected them to resist this, but they saw the importance of what we were doing and how it was benefiting them. This situation was certainly unexpected but, again, we discovered this through the Experience Capitalisation processes.
Developing the future
All of our new projects have to be based on what we have already done – to plan for the future requires a detailed knowledge of what we learn from the past. We have recently received the go-ahead to develop a new project and we will certainly use the information we gathered in a compendium of articles using the Experience Capitalisation processes to design it. All of the documentation we have, especially the stuff that we didn’t expect to find, is now available and will be used to make sure we start off the new project with our eyes open – to see results which we cannot yet expect.