How does one analyze the cooking of Jollof rice? This West African dish sent emotions flying high in the first workshop on experience capitalization in Accra, Ghana.
From 27-30 March 2017, around 35 participants from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria gathered for a four-day face-to-face workshop learning and exchanging about experience capitalization, organized by CTA. This was completed with a second meeting in June, with most of the same participants.
Using the IMARK learning module on the topic, we worked on real-life cases to get to know about an experience capitalization approach. The group of participants was very diverse, with women and men working in small social enterprises, local and international NGOs, research institutes and international bodies such as UNDP. Together they covered a wide range of development initiatives – as one participant noted, almost all the sustainable development goals were ‘represented’ – ranging from ICTs for smallholder farmers to higher education. And cooking Jollof rice, of course.
Experience capitalization is best learned by, well, experiencing it. Participants worked in groups or individually to learn from one concrete case (for more information on the steps in this process, see the stages of experience capitalization). But like in many of the other processes in the “Capitalization of Experiences for Greater Impact in Rural Development” project, in the Anglophone West African cluster the first face-to-face workshop was only the beginning. After the workshop participants return to their homes and colleagues where they will work on completing the process in their teams. Experience capitalization is a participatory process, after all.
A second workshop
Participants met again and looked at the need to reach out and bring the results of a capitalization exercise to a broader audience, for which it is necessary to prepare a communications strategy. This starts by identifying the target audience, distinguishing between the different groups of people that can be reached, and focusing on their specific characteristics (in particular their knowledge, attitudes and practice). A next step was to look at the possible products, considering that written products are not the only option, and then to look at the possible channels to use.
The second day focused on writing, discussing a few principles (e.g., texts have to be legible, concise, appealing and rigorous), and then looking at the best way to go about it: preparing our thoughts, making a tentative outline, using the “freewriting” technique, etc. Participants shared some of the difficulties they experienced, while we also looked at a few tips and tricks generally mentioned (avoid jargon, use short sentences) and at the need to (i) include dates for all activities and figures (data) that show results, (ii) add quotes, showing the opinions of those involved, (iii) add a short case study, building on what is shown on a photo, and (iv) remember the experience’s uniqueness throughout the text.
Adoption and institutionalization
Planning to let all documents “breathe” for some time (as one of the tips frequently given when writing), we started the third day looking at the adoption process, and at the need to encourage the use of the results of every capitalization process. Going back to the original definitions, the purpose of an experience capitalization process is not to identify good practices, nor just to publish a document. After sharing the main lessons learnt, the purpose is to see them being used, and in this way having a larger impact. But adoption is not something which is automatic, or which always takes place. Focusing on the best way to encourage adoption, we looked at the innovations themselves (as the ideas which we want to be adopted) and at the conditions they must fulfil for being adopted (like compatibility, social acceptability), and also at the external and internal factors involved. We also looked at the need to think of adaptation and scaling up.
Next, we looked at the need to institutionalize the approach, as the main objective of this project. Building on the ideas all participants presented during the first days, as steps already taken towards the institutionalization of the approach, we looked at the “finish line”: what do we see when an approach is institutionalized? We then shared some of the general conditions required, such as resources, participants, or a critical attitude, comparing this to the general conditions needed to start and implement a capitalization process. Following the “World Café” technique, participants discussed the need to have procedures and methods in place, to have clear roles and responsibilities, or also to have a training scheme – and they all pointed at the necessary steps to take to get there.