Knowledge and Learning

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Triple-loop learning around the ICT4Ag conference

April 2, 2014

Have you ever felt that what you heard at a conference finally became important months afterwards? Did you ever feel that a talk you heard or a discussion you were in only fully made sense when you were working on a project later in the year?

Conferences are certainly an opportunity to meet new contacts and have new ideas but how can they be structured to efficiently exchange ideas, share knowledge and build new innovations. The ICT4Ag conference, organised through collaboration among at least 20 partner institutions and aimed at setting the scene and guiding future collaboration on ICTs and Agriculture and Rural Development, was an opportunity to try something different: address the learning process throughout the organisation of the event. Thus at the ICT4Ag conference, a number of Knowledge Management activities were used, from building more discussion space into the agenda, building a large facilitation team, using a range of facilitation methods and adopting techniques of experience capitalisation.

Principles of single, double and triple learning loops

The approach in organising the conference to generate emergent knowledge required that opportunities for learning be created, facilitated and documented as part of the process. Thus, the double-loop learning (Argyris and Schön, 1978) and triple-loop learning (Swieringa and Wierdsma, 1992) provided a good basis for the conference process. A quick overview of single, double and triple loop learning is provided at as follows:

Level of learning Responds to the question Involves
Single-loop Are we doing things right? Deals with rules and procedures – efficiency of  what we do
Double-loop Are we doing the right things? Gaining insights and determining patterns – effectiveness of what we do
Triple-loop How do we decide what is right? Better understanding the context and guiding principles – guiding why we should be doing something

Observations on using this approach:

  • The process of triple-loop learning provided an appropriate framework for planning, facilitating, documenting and promoting engagement on ICT4Ag.
  • During the planning phases of the conference, the approach was not well understood and was in competition with all the other pressing activities involved in oranising the conference.
  • Greater awareness of the process among the implementers themselves, accompanied by careful planning at each stage could have improved on the engagement of stakeholders before, during and especially after the event.
  • The approach is worth trying again in the context of documenting and learning from the process of intense interactions and learning by many stakeholders over a short period such as in the context of a similar conference or Share Fai

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