Development initiatives have come and gone, and with them a plethora of experiences and knowledge that, if properly harnessed, could help the success of future projects. Unfortunately, lessons from many of these projects are not documented, not shared, and therefore not used.
For the past three years, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) – in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), and with funding from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) – implemented the “Capitalisation of Experiences for Greater Impact in Rural Development” project.
The project, which began in 2016, included a series of workshops that involved the participation of development practitioners from across the globe. The main objective of the project was to encourage the adoption or institutionalisation of the experience capitalisation approach, that is, its regular use by projects and organisations to regularly identify lessons and recommendations.
Many cases where the institutionalisation process is already underway have been identified and 25 were analysed in detail during a final workshop held between 18 and 21 February 2019, in Amsterdam. During this event, supporting factors for institutionalisation were identified and reviewed and, when published, these cases will be shared among project participants, as well as others with an interest in experience capitalisation.
“The project was not just to help or to support organisations start a capitalisation process or to try it once, but to help them develop the conditions that would allow them to continue doing it in the future. And to develop the training materials, skills, and the general conditions that are going to allow an organisation to implement such an approach in a continuous way,” explained Jorge Chavez-Tafur, project coordinator and knowledge management officer at CTA.
Adopting the approach
Project participant Prudence Ayebare, representing the Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), says the experience capitalisation project has played a critical role in the transformation of how knowledge is generated and used across her organisation. She admits that, before the introduction of the experience capitalisation concept, her organisation was mainly concerned with monitoring and evaluation and reporting. However, the impact of the project has such that the approach has been adopted, and this has changed the way they collect, document and share information.
“When I left the first training workshop which CTA organised as part of this project, in Nairobi in 2016, I kept thinking to myself how to replicate what we had learned, and that’s when I developed a strategy that could help me discuss the approach with my colleagues. From that point, some staff became interested and we organised a workshop for them to learn more about experience capitalisation,” Prudence shared.
“Though initially it was a challenge to get some staff on board, those that we involved are now in the early stages of producing their own publications. Additionally, senior staff have shown interest in the project and have requested another workshop,” she continued. Prudence believes that this achievement is a major step and that her colleagues at UNFFE, and in other organisations in Uganda, will soon be sharing many lessons and recommendations.
For another participant, Esteban Tapella, a part-time professor at the San Juan University in Argentina and a freelance consultant, “experience capitalisation” was not a new concept as this is the area in which he works. However, the project was nevertheless unique to him. “In most of the cases that I have been involved with, they only provide the training. I have also been training people and afterwards you don’t know how they made use of the information, if at all. However, with this project we followed the whole process. There is a series of publications with the cases prepared by all participants, and which share information and lessons widely, not only for those involved in the training process but also to other groups.” He concludes, “I think this is very useful, as it demonstrates the added value of the approach,” adding that he has adapted some of the lessons learnt in his country.
Many different organisations have adopted the experience capitalisation approach, and CTA has done the same. In January 2019, CTA completed a series of experience capitalisation workshops in Wageningen that have focused on its intervention areas of digitalisation, youth and climate, as well as on the cross-cutting theme of gender. The participation of CTA staff and project partners resulted in the production of several technical briefs, features and blogs, with even more lessons and recommendations.
Guidelines for successful implementation of the approach can be found in the book: Facilitating experience capitalization: A guidebook.