Different guidebooks, and the resulting processes, follow slightly different steps. In some cases, this is seen as “systematization”, in others as a documentation process. In all cases, however, we talk of a process that starts with a given experience, which are “captured” and assessed, where lessons are drawn and shared, and which lead to the adoption of these lessons.
Whatever the focus that the team chooses, or the size of the team involved, every experience capitalisation processes go through similar phases. In short, we talk of a set of six steps:
(a) Definitions, needs assessments, and identification of the experience. The starting point refers to the discussion about aims and potential benefits, the identification of experience capitalization as a learning process, and the identification of the experience to be described and analysed. Is your organisation hoping to learn from a specific project, a component of the project, or from the work that took place in a specific region? And what does it intend to do with the lessons and the results of the process? Are you interested in sharing the knowledge gained within your project or organisation, or with outsiders? Do you intend to use it to improve your own practices? Who will it benefit? And together with an overall objective, your organisation also needs to select, even if roughly at first, the experience that will be examined. While there are different criteria to consider, the most important one will be the lessons that can be drawn from it.
(b) Planning: Having defined the path to follow and having selected the experience that you will be looking at, it becomes possible to plan and prepare for the implementation of the whole process (see Lesson 1.4). This step requires you to identify those who need to join the process (those who can be described as “owners” of the experience, together with those who can contribute positively to the discussions and the results); identify the key documents that need to be consulted in the process; assign the necessary time and resources; select and adjust the methodology to use, and; distribute all activities within a given period of time.
(c) Collection, organization of the information available and description. With a concrete experience in mind, it is then necessary to look for information about it, and to organise the information available (so that it is easy to know what information is available, and what needs to be found). As part of this organization process it is necessary to describe all activities, the place where they were implemented and role of different actors in this implementation. At this moment you also need to look at the intended and unintended results, and at the main difficulties which those in the field faced (see Lesson 2.1). Using participatory methodologies and involving many different people, this is where you will discover the many perspectives of the people you talk with, and complement that with other data you will gather.
(d) Analysis. As the name suggests, this refers to the stage during which the experience undergoes a thorough analysis on the basis of specific criteria. The most important part of the process is to make sense of the information collected so far, looking at the reasons why activities were implemented in a particular way, and why the events went the way they went. Why is it that 75% of all villagers attended the training courses? And why is it that, is spite of the clear benefits, 25% still refused to join? Here, the team takes specific steps to collect the opinions of all those involved, and with these different perspectives draw clear conclusions. The analysis allows one to extract the lessons and provide recommendations for future improvements or similar cases.
(e) Sharing and dissemination. This is the stage during which the knowledge stemming from the process is put into the public domain in various media and channels, depending on communication objectives. The purpose can be to share these lessons within your organization, or with a wider external audience. Either way, a dissemination strategy is essential. The information, ideas, opinions or insights are presented in a way that can be easily shared – whether in a written, audiovisual or other form – and which can be easily found by the audience you want to reach.
(f) “Using” the lessons learnt. While sharing and disseminating the lessons learnt is important, this must not be seen as the end. An experience capitalisation process is only complete once the lessons have been integrated into the project cycle. In addition to sharing lessons with others, the results of the process are seen when practitioners and their team leaders can say that they have learnt something new as a result of the analysis of their experience, and when they put the lessons into practice.