Testing our “desktopbook” in Central Asia

Botir Dosov

We often use the words “guidebook”, “workbook” or “notebook” in our daily jobs. The latter sometimes is understood as a small laptop computer, while our personal computer as a “desktop”. Besides, we also have a “deskbook”, which is a reference book that may be kept close by: a compilation of often-cited materials. If most of these features and attributes would be integrated in a single tool, we might name it a “desktopbook”. Participants in a recent meeting in Central Asia used this word to describe the online course on experience capitalization produced by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The Russian version of the e-module on Experience Capitalization recently became available, since November, 2018. This milestone became a starting point for broad dissemination of the Experience Capitalization in the countries in Central Asia, where the Russian is the common language. This course can be accessed in English here, and the CD-ROM version in Russian can be downloaded here. It describes the experience capitalization approach, and presents the tools needed to plan and implement a complete process. Furthermore, the course allows students to check the progress made with exercises that help review every step. So you can just use the online or off-line version not only for learning, but also as a “reference book”, “guidebook” or “textbook”.

This was one of the ideas raised during the meeting organized by KRASS, the Khorezm Rural Advisory Support Service. This is a self-governing, independent, non-governmental and not-for-profit organization located in the Khorezm province in Uzbekistan. This NGO provides agricultural support services in the rural areas of Uzbekistan, aiming at the improvement of rural livelihoods, poverty alleviation and at the long-term food security and environmental sustainability.

For more than ten years, KRASS has implemented many projects and provided different services. According to the Executive Director of KRASS, Ms Liliana Sin, this huge organizational experience is reaching its critical mass, and it becomes obvious that relevant processes need to be institutionalized to draw lessons, share knowledge and scale up the experience.

Ms Liliana Sin, Executive Director of KRASS. Photo by Botir Dosov

These concerns found response in the intention of the Central Asia and the Caucasus Forum for Rural Advisory Services (CAC-FRAS) to promote the Experience Capitalization approach among its member organizations. CAC-FRAS started working in April, 2018. It provides leadership and a space for advocacy on rural advisory services within the regional and national development priorities, and promotes the provision of extension and advisory services toward more productive, more profitable and sustainable agriculture and food systems.

Joint activities started with the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding by both organizations: CAC-FRAS is committed to providing technical support in the operationalization and institutionalization of experience capitalization to KRASS, and in the documentation, sharing and scaling-up of good and promising practices in agriculture.

One of its first activities was the organization of an introductory workshop was organized in Khorezm, a meeting that took place in the 8th and 9th of January 2019. The workshop started with a short video in Russian with English subtitles: What is Experience Capitalization?. During the first day, the facilitator, the CAC-FRAS Chairperson, proposed to have an interactive session asking all participants to say how they would describe an experience capitalization process. This was followed by another session, where participants were split into two groups: those who had doubts and concerns, and those who would support starting a capitalization process right away. This led to a lively discussion about the value of such a process for an organization; how this could address the internal challenges regularly seen, and how this would help improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the ongoing and future interventions. In order to further facilitate the discussion, the main phases, stages and steps of a capitalization process were presented to participants, with some methods as examples for practical work.

During the second day of the workshop, participants looked at the specific steps they could take to start the process, and to ensure its institutionalization, looking at it as a consistent and systematic process. The KRASS team selected and focused on one of its projects: “Evapotranspiration-based Irrigation Scheduling for Winter Wheat and Cotton in the Aral Sea Basin, Uzbekistan”. Some of its components and activities were documented as part of a large FAO initiative aiming at collecting “good and promising practices on the use of ICTs for agriculture in Europe and Central Asia”, but only one person was involved and this was not completed. This time, KRASS showed interest in a participatory approach to documenting and on the need to have a broader reflection process that would consider the specific purpose of the initiative, the kind of products they should produce, and the different communication channels to think of.

KRASS team members using the e-learning course as a ‘desktopbook’.

The specific experience which KRASS selected for documentation and capitalization was implemented in 2015, and deemed promising and good for scaling it up. However, the practice was not upscaled as funds from the main donor were not available. Recognising its potential, KRASS is interested in applying a collective reflection process and in seeing how this practice could be further promoted. Documents will be submitted to potential donors for further research and discussions, while being broadly shared with potential stakeholders and beneficiaries through the different activities which KRASS carries out.

The other benefit of the Experience Capitalization approach, as the KRASS case shows, is that it definitely creates and motivates teamwork and participatory interactions. Many professionals in many organizations works in isolation within their projects, tasks and expertise, and in this way miss the possibility of improving what they do. This was understood by KRASS, adopting the approach as part of its efforts for improving internal processes. Indeed, the participants of the capitalization workshop held in Khorezm have different but correlated areas of expertise (such as project management, economic, social science, environmental studies, accounting, agri-technology, GIS, ICT, extension, etc.). Working together, this team of professionals found out the value of joint work, documentation and knowledge sharing.

Where we are at the moment
Different documents show that an organization working towards the institutionalization of a specific approach like Experience Capitalization typically goes through four main phases, going from an ad hoc exercise, as a pilot initiative (or a test), to a “full mainstreaming” moment. KRASS, has successfully tried the ’Ad hoc experience capitalization exercise’ phase. The lessons learned and the experience gained from this exercise have informed the next phases of the capitalization process. KRASS is now on the “early stages” phase, where more widespread experience of and support for experience capitalization by practitioners in expected.

Further support is needed so that KRASS can see the approach fully mainstreamed. And the same needs to be provided to the other organizations in the region. There are many obstacles in promoting this methodology in Central Asia and the Caucasus region, but it is possible to overcome them if followers can observe the clear added value of the approach.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is promoting and facilitating a Community of Practice (CoP). Community members from Africa, Asia or Latin America & Caribbean use a Dgroups platform for all their conversations, learning from each other and sharing with each other both on the approach itself and on the different experiences which have been documented. CAC-FRAS is now introducing this approach in other countries in the region. However, this should not be seen as a regional or sub-regional initiative, but as part of global program. In spite of the language difficulties, followers and practitioners can benefit by joining the global CoP on Experience Capitalization, and from the support of all its members. This CoP can also be seen as another key part of our extended “desktopbook”.

© 2018, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint institution operating under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the ACP Group of States (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) and the EU Member States (European Union). CTA is funded by the European Union.