What is ‘experience capitalisation’?
Many project documents show that knowledge is continuously developed in many places and at many levels. However, much of this knowledge is rarely written down and published so remains largely unknown. Experience capitalisation ensures that practical experiences are captured, and that tangible ‘capital’ is created from them. The process helps identify specific innovations and practices, and understand the reasons behind success or failure. It can help provide evidence, supporting advocacy efforts. An additional benefit is that through involvement of different participants in the process, the capacities of – and collaborative relationships between – participants are strengthened. Cases of experience capitalisation help to provide insights that lead to improvement of existing practices in their original context, or the adoption/scaling up of good and promising practices into new contexts, as well as the adaptation of practices in the implementation of activities, leading to a desirable change.
Every experience capitalisation process goes through similar phases even if the focus chosen and the size of the team involved varies. The process can be summarised in six key steps:
- Definitions, needs assessments, and identification of the experience. The starting point of the process is the discussion about aims and potential benefits, the identification of experience capitalisation as a learning process, and the identification of the experience to be described and analysed. Together with an overall objective, the experience that will be examined needs to be selected; while there are different criteria to consider, the most important one will be the lessons that can be drawn from the process.
- Planning. Once the path to be followed has been defined and the experience to be analysed has been selected, detailed planning and preparation takes place. This includes identifying those who need to join the process (i.e. those described as ‘owners’ of the experience, together with those who can contribute positively to the discussions and the results); identifying key documents that need to be consulted; and assigning and implementing an appropriate timeframe and the necessary resources to the process.
- Collection, organisation of available information and description. This next step involves organising and analysing information connected to the selected experience. The experience is examined; highlighting what was done, when it was done, where it was done and by whom. At this time, it is necessary to look at the intended and unintended results, and at the main challenges faced by those in the field. By using participatory methodologies and involving many different people, this is where the varied perspectives of the people involved will be revealed which will complement other previously gathered reports and opinions.
- Analysis. This stage involves a thorough analysis of the selected ‘experience’ based on specific criteria. The most critical part is to make sense of the information collected so far, looking at reasons why activities were implemented in a particular way, what outcomes occurred, and why those outcomes occurred. For example, why is it that 75% of all villagers attended the training courses? And why is it that, in spite of clear benefits, 25% refused to join? During this phase, the team takes specific steps to collect the opinions of all those involved and, with these different perspectives, draw clear conclusions. The analysis then allows the lessons to be extracted and recommendations provided for future improvements to their experience.
- Sharing and dissemination. This involves putting the knowledge resulting from the process into the public domain via various media and channels, depending on who those in the process want to share their lessons with and for what reasons. The purpose can be to share these lessons within the team’s organisation, or with a wider external audience. Either way, a dissemination strategy is essential. The information, ideas, opinions or insights from the process are presented in a way that can be easily shared – whether in a written, audio-visual or other form – and made readily available for the intended audience.
- ‘Using’ the lessons learnt. While sharing and disseminating lessons learnt is important, this should not be seen as the end of the process; 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 their experience analysis, and when they put the lessons into practice.
A learning module prepared by FAO as part of this CTA project on experience capitalisation is also available, which builds on the different experience capitalisation efforts that have been tested and implemented by different organisations throughout the world. The examples are meant to help plan and implement a process as a key component of a development programme or project, to ensure greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Further information on the Experience capitalization website.