KM on a dollar a day

Musing on knowledge management, aid and development with limited resources

Learning as part of the brand – part 2 (how to)

with 6 comments

Last week I blogged about how aid organizations should do more to make learning a part of their brand (both their communication, but more importantly how they act).

I had a conversation yesterday about a new piece of work I’m hoping to be starting soon, and had an opportunity to think a bit about how this might be put into practice.

A major objective of this assignment will be to look at a specific area of work of the UN system to try to pull together evidence of what the UN has achieved in order to  to better understand and also demonstrate and communicate the impact of the UN’s efforts.

A good start to this would be to look for success stories, to gather and verify evidence about the impact of this work, and from this to  identify good practices, and write them up and share them widely. This could then be used both to communicate the work the UN is doing and the results it achieves – but also to disseminate and hopefully spread the use of the good practices identified.

This is already good – supporting both our brand but also sharing what we have learned, and is more or less what we currently do with our work on innovations and lessons learned. But to really maximise our learning we can and should take this a step further. What we also can do is to look at both our successes, but also where we have been less successful so that we can identify not only what works – but what doesn’t work, so that both good and bad practices can be identified and  disseminated so they can be replicated and avoided respectively. In fact in any case study, even a  highly successful one, there are both positive aspects and less positive ones – and for a full learning it is important to acknowledge and learn from both of them.

Another aspect of learning from our experience is that learning should be ongoing, an integral part of how we work – not just something which we try to bolt-on post facto. This means that reflection on our experience and continual improvement based on that reflection needs to be built into project design and monitoring.

Another aspect is that any examination needs to incorporate both “hard evidence” from data and evaluations, but also soft data from experience and stories which help us to understand context and the meaning of the impact. They also need to look at both internal assessments – and also external ones – in particular from the point of view of stakeholders perception of the value and impact of the work.

Similarly, and “good practice” that is identified in this area should not only be documented as a one-shot deal – but that practice should be replicated elsewhere to test its validity in other contexts -adapted and improved based on this new application and the documented practice refined and any relevant improvements reapplied in the original context from which it came. This way there is a continual cycle of refining and improving good practices rather than considering the a static “best practice” that is blindly reapplied.

The advantages of this enhanced approach are that not only do we identify what works and what doesn’t but through this approach the improvements are continual – not just represented by an episodic analysis of performance and selective sharing of successes. This is both more honest (we don’t pretend that everything we do is perfect) and thus more credible, but also leads to continual improvement.

In my next conversation about this upcoming project I’m going to push that we take this approach. Wish me luck – and watch this space.

Written by Ian Thorpe

July 19, 2011 at 3:35 pm

6 Responses

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  1. I really like this approach. I’m not sure about the language of “bad practices,” though. What doesn’t work in one situation may very well work in another.

    For that reason, I’d encourage you to capture some organizational ecosystem (a concept Denise Easton and I have developed for our Complexity Space Framework (www.thecomplexityspace.com) data. In this way, potential users can calibrate the results of the practice to their particular ecosystem and business situation.

    Good luck!

    3-D Change, Inc.

    July 19, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    • I take your point on not being too quick to class things as “bad practices” – although I do think that while some things depend on context – there are also things that don’t work in most contexts – which doesn’t always stop them being repeated (particularly if they are not identified and warned against).

      Ian Thorpe

      July 19, 2011 at 4:09 pm

  2. […] latest post, the second of two (although he’s promising more) is about the role of learning, a subject […]

  3. This is a large part of my role with UNDP – glad to see that it matters to ther people, as well…

    Development Rookie

    July 24, 2011 at 6:01 am

  4. […] Sharing Techniques from the Development Community (which itself was inspired by Ian Thorpe’s Learning as Part of the Brand). As a result, I’m now seeing a perhaps-common thread, an opening for us to look at the […]

  5. […] Techniques from the Development Community (which itself was inspired by Ian Thorpe’s Learning as Part of the Brand). As a result, I’m now seeing a perhaps-common thread, an opening for us to look at the […]


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