Put your name on it
I’ve been in a number of discussions lately with different programme sectors about how they can better document and share experience. There is both an interest from headquarters to “tell the story” of what we do and what works, and an appetite from our country offices and our partners to get more concrete examples of successful programmes i.e. not just guidance and research, but also some real case studies that show how it is done in practice.
I’ll try to write moire later on the whole issue of what approaches to use to do this, and some of the challenges – but I just wanted to share an important quick piece of advice based on what I’ve seen.
“Put your name on it”!
Too often organizations, especially UN organizations produce case studies, lessons learned documents, stories, articles etc. without a name on them. They are produced by “the organization”, or perhaps a department witihn the organization.
A nameless article migt be fine in a donor report, or even in public awareness raising, but it has very little use as a tool for sharing practical programme experience. That’s because the document isn’t the whole picture, it doesn’t capture all the relevant knowledge from an experience, only the highlights. The experience shared is intimately tied up with the individuals who were part of the process. Adding the names of the key actors involved in a documented real life experience has several important benefits for knowledge sharing including:
1. You know who to contact for more information – often the case study or report is only the opening for learning. If there is interest to reapply the learning from the experience then you are likely to have additional questions or want to get more information and background documentation. You need a contact name to do this, and a name is much more apporachable than a generic e-mail account.
2. Given all the work pressures, and the still relatively little prioritiy given by many organizations to investing in documenting experience, giving people public visibility for their good work can be an important motivator to take the time to share. Visibility helps reward people for good work, and helps build their reputation together with that of the organization (we are an organization that does good work – because we have good people).
3. The reverse of this is that having aname on something is also good for accountability, and quality. I’m going to pay more attention to the quality of apiece of work if I know my name (and reputation) is attached to it.
4. Name and reputation is also a marker for good work. The reality is that when we read a book, a magazine article or an academic journal article we are influenced not only by the content, but also the reputation of who has contributed to it. So it makes sense for organizations to profile and build the reputations of those doing good work since it not only benefits the individual it also improves the effectiveness of the message.
Basically we should think of case studies, publications etc. not as the end of the story as regards sharing and disseminating the knowledge – but rather as the start of sharing and as a stimulus for a conversation that leads to action, whether between practitioners on how to apply the lessons from an experience, or to work with government to advocate for and then implement new policy. A pubication is a useful synthesis of evidence and experience to inform action – but it takes conversation to turn it into action, and keeping the people in the picture makes it easier to move to this next step.