Last year I was invited to participate in an experience capitalization workshop in Kigali. I had no clue what experience capitalization was about, and what I could gain from it. When I arrived in Kigali, I found out that I was not the only one.
What is it all about?
In a nutshell experience capitalization is about making implicit knowledge explicit and sharing this knowledge widely. In the Kigali workshop, we became familiar with some of the theory, and at this point we were eager to learn how to put it into practice.
Fortunately the workshop was not just theoretical, but about actually starting your own experience capitalization process. The first step was to select an experience of your own. I needed to select an experience that I knew very well, for which there was sufficient information, and for which there is potential to draw useful and relevant lessons from.
I decided to document our experience, as service providers, from the Singida project in central Tanzania. For this project, I am the team leader in Manyoni District. The Singida project is about empowering producers and strengthening market linkages. This is mainly done through improving productivity and post-harvest handling, and by improving households’ access to capital. It runs from 2015 to 2017, and is part of a larger IFAD project on marketing, infrastructure, value addition and rural finance (MIVARF). As I am a project leader, I know a lot about this project, and I am responsible for writing regular progress reports. I felt I had some important lessons to share on how we are managing to improve the production of sunflowers, and improve market access and fair shares for smallholders. Furthermore, as the project has had positive results so far, I thought it would not be hard to find motivated participants to take part in the experience capitalization process.
Digging into details – the Kigali workshop
In the next part of the workshop, I had to describe the project in detail, so I looked into everything which was done so far, the results achieved and the main difficulties faced. Although I had to focus on my own case, it was good that we were together as a group. We could discuss and give each other suggestions.
One of my challenges was that we have so many different activities in the Singida project. For example, we brought together key players like producers, processors, buyers, government officials, and financial institutions, and set up a forum committee who were actively involved in the activities of the project. To improve farming practices, we organized ‘farmer field schools’, where ‘lead farmers’, who practiced new approaches, transferred their skills and experiences to fellow farmers. To reduce post-harvest losses, we set up a warehouse, with a corresponding warehouse receipt system. To improve sales, we organized collective marketing in producer groups. It was difficult to describe so many activities but the progress reports I had written previously, and my memory, helped with this part of the process.
The next step in the workshop was the analysis, in which I had to dig a bit deeper.Why did things go wrong? And why did other things succeed? For example, some stakeholders were reluctant to be involved in the forum committee. We found out that it was because no allowances were paid. However, in the end it turned out to be positive not to pay allowances, as only the most enthusiastic people became involved. Another example is that we learned that it was very important to involve local leaders and local processors to gain farmers’ confidence for the cooperative approach we wanted to use. Their involvement helped alot in gaining the farmers’ trust.
At the end of the workshop, I had a good description and analysis of my experience. However, I still wanted to add more information from other stakeholders, share it with my colleagues for their input, and verify the recommendations and conclusions.
At home, while preparing for the followup workshop in Arusha, I tried to collect more information from the farmers, the processors, and my two colleagues with whom I work on the project. I did most of this in face-to-face meetings where I started by explaining the goal of experience capitalization. After this introduction, I collected their views on why things turned out positively or negatively. In these meetings, we also discussed the best ways of sharing the experience once it is written down as a story.
Putting pen to paper – the Arusha workshop
In the second workshop, in Arusha, we discussed our progress with the process of experience capitalization. It was useful that we had each managed to describe and analyse our experiences beforehand. We were ready to write. We learned more about documenting (writing, editing), and we thought about how to go about using the lessons learned from the experience in the future. Furthermore, we discussed our sharing strategies and talked about how to mainstream the experience capitalization processes in our own organizations. It turned out that I was not alone in having enthusiastically returned from Kigali to share my first lessons on experience capitalization with my management team and colleagues.
Where am I now?
The workshop gave me the confidence to draft a first story of my experience. I emailed it to my colleagues, who quickly gave me their feedback. I also sent my story to the workshop facilitators for their comments. When the article is finished, I will share it with the project stakeholders, including local politicians. In order to reach a broader audience, I am planning to publish the article in an international journal, as well as a couple of Tanzania’s newspapers.
Besides these ambitious plans for my first story, I am working with my colleagues to get to work on documenting their experiences. I will facilitate this process and we are now trying to set up a knowledge sharing centre in the focal area of the project. The stories we document will be kept here, and be made available for farmers, extension officers, project staff and other stakeholders to learn from. This way, when we come across problems in other projects, we can make use of similar experiences elsewhere, to solve them. I feel that we can take this process even further: why only stick to documenting our experiences at work, we can gain a lot from also keeping track of the lessons learned from life in general!