A ‘sandwich model’ for training on experience capitalization involves two workshops with a support period in between. I would like to draw your attention to the process in between the two workshops – a very important part of the sandwich!
In the first workshop that took place in Nairobi, concepts were explained, everyone selected a story to tell, and made a start with collecting, organizing, and analyzing information for these. A key tool at this stage was a set of tables that guides you through the process of dealing with information. In the second workshop that took place in Arusha, writing, sharing, mainstreaming, and facilitation were discussed and practiced. But what happened in between these workshops? This is when a lot of the real work has to happen. I have some things to share on facilitating this part of the experience capitalization process.
I work with the Eastern Africa Farmers Federation, an umbrella organization that offers services to our members who are national farmers federations in Eastern Africa. Knowledge Management is part of a longer term programme for us. But, as we are a small organization, we work together with others to provide services. Through the experience capitalization workshops, together with CTA, our goal was to get our members motivated to, and capable of, sharing their experiences and learning from each other.
I was asked to help organize and follow-up after the first workshop in Nairobi. I selected the participants from our national member organizations in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. I selected four organizations based on a few criteria, and based on our previous experiences working together – these are each ‘vibrant’ organizations with a good reputation for representing farmers on the ground. The organizations are KLPA and KENAFF in Kenya, UNFFE in Uganda and MVIWATA in Tanzania. I spoke with the respective CEOs who helped to select three participants per organization. Where possible I wanted a programme officer, a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) officer, and a communications officer. I thought that this combination of people would be complementary as they each work at different levels and could help each other when filling in information gaps in their stories. Moreover, it was important to include people who are actually communicating with farmers.
In Nairobi, we followed the structure of FAO’s online learning module called Experience Capitalization for Continuous Learning. All of the participants succeeded in selecting their stories to tell, and made a start in collecting, organizing and analyzing the relevant information.
Filling up the sandwich
After five constructive days in Nairobi, we all went home and back to our offices. Our daily tasks were screaming for attention but it was my job to make sure that everyone’s process of experience capitalization stayed on track. This would ensure that we could get the most out of the second workshop that would take place in Arusha. I needed to follow-up with each participant and help them to continue collecting, organizing and analyzing information for their stories.
After four weeks back home, I made an appointment with each organization to visit them. The first meeting took place from 15-18 November 2016 and by mid-February 2017 we were busy with final reporting. In each organization, I sat with the three participants from the workshop for two days. During this time we refreshed our memories on the stories that they each wanted to tell. We then looked at the tables that they had started filling in during the first workshop. Some had not progressed any further than where they left off in the workshop, others had taken the process further. Those who hadn’t yet continued working on their tables told me that it was difficult to find time for such an exercise when you are back in your regular work rhythm. Also, for some of them the tables we had to fill in were not clear enough. And, as the FAO learning module was online, lack of internet connection was another hampering factor in some cases.
Together we picked up the tables and tried to fill them in as comprehensively as possible. My continuous probing – “How? What? When? Where? Why?” – seemed endless to them. I learned that probing is key and in the end the participants even told me that they really appreciated my questions!
To get the most out of their experiences, I tried to listen carefully to what they told me, and made sure all three participants contributed to their peers’ stories. I encouraged them to help each other and make it a collaborative effort. When I left after these two days, it was clear to them which information was still missing, and they knew how to continue. Although I was gone, I stayed in close contact with the participants and provided help when needed. Whatsapp was a nice medium to continue the communication and keep spirits up.
Some extra flavour
But what kept them motivated to keep going? I think all of them were very enthusiastic about becoming authors of published articles. It also helped that three people from each organization were working side by side as they were able to motivate and help each other with missing details and feedback when they got stuck.
Apart from that, as a facilitator, I was able to tell them about the experiences of other members of the Eastern African Farmers Federation. They often had no idea what others were up to and upon learning about many interesting experiences, the need to share their own experiences became even more clear.
Looking back, it also helps if there is someone interested in your results. This role of a facilitator might be even more important than you think.
After all this hard work, we had the second workshop in Arusha in March 2017. Here we learned about sharing, writing, scaling up, and institutionalizing the experience capitalization process within our own workplaces. Although I had facilitated the process so far, this second workshop was a very important learning experience for me as well. As we say in Kiswahili, ‘mganga haijgangi’ or, ‘a witch doctor doesn’t cure herself’. I had no clue how we would turn all the information we had collected in the tables into clear and concise stories. Learning more about writing gave me some new tools to continue with my ‘witchery’ as a facilitator.
After the workshop in Arusha, I continued assisting the participants with their writing, but also wrote a document reflecting on how the experience capitalization ‘sandwich’ went. The main lessons I learned on facilitation are:
- Choose your participants in such a way that they can help and motivate each other. Choosing three people, with different functions, but from the same organization, certainly helped a lot.
- It’s learning by doing. After a first workshop not everybody is ready to continue by themselves so it’s important to keep in contact in between two workshops.
- Careful listening and probing is key to getting the most out of people’s stories.
- Don’t underestimate your own time (and money) it takes to follow-up with the participants. The role of a facilitator can be never ending, but without financial and institutional support the processes can easily collapse.
- Keep on learning yourself! When I started the facilitation process on experience capitalization it was all new to me, but that is not the case anymore!