The Train4Dev Learning Events in a dilemma: from training to capacity development

July 29, 2010 | Manuel Flury | Methods & Tools |


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Manuel picture for sdclanBy Manuel Flury
Through the Train4Dev network so called Joint Learning Events are organised. They grew out from training development agencies’s staff on issues such as Poverty Reduction Strategies, Pro Poor Growth and Sector Wide Approaches. There is a deliberate shift from one-moment trainings of individual staff members to placing these events into a process of capacity development of partner organisations such as Civil Society Organisations and Governments. Learning events link up with particular policy reform processes. The demand for a learning event would not anymore stem exclusively from the donor agencies, it would as well reflect partners’ interests. Train4Dev finds itself in a dilemma of promoting joint learning with country partners and in the same time providing the format, the orientation and the resources of the events. The format of the Joint Learning Initiatives need to be negotiated and jointly agreed among al the partners, this is the challenge for Train4Dev and the Joint Learning Events.

The Train4Dev network met in Marseille in early June 2010 for its 8th annual Train4Dev, hosted jointly by France and EuropeAid. “Competence and learning is our mission” stated Peter Swartling from SIDA, the Chairman in his welcome address to the network. “Committed colleagues and networkers” from staff training and research units, information and knowledge management services, policy departments and capacity development/aid effectiveness units of donor agencies, Ministries of Foreign Affairs and training institutions reviewed the activities of Train4Dev “on the ground”, the core being the organisation of Joint Learning Events.

These Joint Learning Events (JLE) train and build competence among staff in development agencies, partner government and civil society organisations selected themes such as Sector Wide Approaches, Public Finance Management, Pro Poor Growth, Management for development results. For a closer look: Train4Dev-JLE Mongolia 2010 

Joint learning events enhance harmonisation efforts in development cooperation and thus promote improved aid and development effectiveness for poverty reduction. The Joint Learning Events are developed and implemented by a group of member donors, committed to a particular area of development cooperation.

From a learning perspective, one aspect of the work of Train4Dev is particularly interesting: The deliberate shift from one-moment trainings of individual staff members to placing the courses into an institutional process of developing capacities of participating organisations.

This shift coincides with opening the learning events to partner organisations and linking them to particular policy reform processes. The “demand”, therefore, would not anymore stem exclusively from the donor agencies and its staff training intentions, it would as well reflect partners’ interests and needs. The way how the needs for Joint Learning Events are assessed and consolidated is a point of debate. The intention to respond to requests for Joint Learning Events from governments in partner countries might conflict with the staff training needs of the donor agencies. Questions were raised by organisers of Joint Learning Events as to who the “right” participants are and what the counterpart contribution of the partners for a joint learning process would have to be.

Margit Scherb from the Austrian Develoment Agency and member of the Core Group of Train4Dev comments: We frequently invited partners to our trainings and we experienced rich exchanges. Train4Dev members are free to continue to do so. JLEs are as well part of the our training but in a completely different format. Preparations are demanding, partners and donors need to come together to mutually agree on challenges and format. In JLEs the participants learn to understand different perspectives and to identify joint action.

Train4Dev finds itself in a certain dilemma of promoting joint learning with country partners and in the same time providing the format (JLE), orientation (developing competencies for improved aid effectiveness) and resources. Learning implies negotiation and jointly agreeing in particular about overall orientations, the format of learning and jointly putting the necessary resources. This goes far beyond the original intention of training donor staff and puts a big challenge to the individual Joint Learning Initiatives.

In his interesting paper titled “Facilitators working across organisations”  Alan Fowler asked: “Capacity development support is often offered as aid, with a donor and a recipient. How does the behaviour of the people involved influence the effectiveness of such efforts?” Referring to the psychological relationship between the giver and the receiver, there is need to facilitate by trying to connect. On the side of the facilitators or, as Fowler calls them, the “boundary spanner”, there is need for a lot of critical self-reflection.

Margit Scherb sees the need for such a person that facilitates and ensures a continued discussion after the JLE and assists in the transfer from the training into the practice and in associating further persons.

This question illustrates a basic dilemma international cooperation is increasingly facing, balancing between partner country orientation (some talk about partnership) and domestic foreign policy interests of donor countries.

Margit Scherb accepts that donors – e.g. through Joint Learning Events – do invite partners and do make an offer to them. Partners, however, are not just given a voice but they are heard and take a practical benefit for a continued collaboration. Joint Learning Events in the framework of Train4Dev should follow this spirit.

Negotiating Joint Learning Events needs to critically reflect interests and powers on both sides. At the end, they have to promote learning of all participating organisations . Less ambition might be more realistic at the end.


Comments to“The Train4Dev Learning Events in a dilemma: from training to capacity development”

  1. Ernst Bolliger says:

    Dear Manuel
    After having read your “report” on the Marseille conference I just want to underline your highlighted training motto: “The shift from one-moment trainings of individual staff members to placing the courses into an institutional process of developing capacities.”
    Among all the trainings I have been involved in, the far biggest outcome has been of those where all the staff of an organisation has been participating in the same training. I would like to illustrate this with two situations we experienced with a module “team meeting” of our training for facilitators.
    Situation A: A participant of a development organisation is very impressed by some principles of the module “team meeting”. She wants to integrate these principles in their team meeting practice. But it happens that the team refuses to accept her proposals (a kind of systemic resistance). She feels very frustrated. No visible change happens.
    Situation B: Some time later, a team gets the same training. During the training, the team members compare the proposed model to the own practice and assess advantages and disadvantages. Finally they decide what to try out. After half a year, the team has changed its meeting pattern, investing more time in preparation and earning lot of time during the meeting. In a assessment the organisation concludes: Overall gain of time and improvement of the meetings’ outcome.

  2. Dilemma – or more hard work..?
    I had the opportunity to facilitate several JLEs for Train4Dev. And yes, for the network it is a (kind of) dilemma whether to focus on donor staff only, or also widen to partners. Fortunately, Train4Dev has adopted a pragmatic stance where it works as an umbrella for both kind of initiatives.

    The JLEs are no panacea to joint learning. They overcome part of the problem of supply-driven training by insisting on partner involvement in planning and preparation, on action-planning as part of the events, and on the importance of timing so that the events suit the capacity development (CD) rhytm in a country and/or sector – rather than pretending to be, by itself, more than a contribution to the ongoing process.

    In practice, it has often proved difficult getting beyond being a one-off event. As such, the events have sometimes been very useful by introducing new perspectives on e.g. sector wide approaches or capacity development- but they have still often been driven more by the supply than robust demand. They may have been requested because they were there – also when something different might have been the better thing to do. If you only have a hammer, you tend to use that even if you really needed a screwdriver!

    A lesson coming out of my experience is that those demanding and supplying a JLE must be ready to consider additional investments in preparation (funding a visit by the facilitator(s) before the event) and follow up (additional coaching or other follow-up activities) – or accept that the learning event by itself will only serve for more limited objectives (e.g. awareness, understanding etc – all these non-behavorial objectives that are pretty far away from being proper CD objectives!).

    This effectively means that JLEs – with wider CD objectives – easily ends up being much more consultancy-inputs than a narrower learning event input. And Train4Dev (and global networks) may well find that such support is beyond their purview.

    Train4Dev could still act as a practice c ommunity for such broader learning-cum-facilitation-cum-consultancy support. And limit themselves to joint learning events with a lower ambition level, focusing on enabling exchanges on issues and practices between partners and between countries. That is still needed and worthwhile – and calls for joint learning, beyond the traditional focus on donor staff. After all, donor staff can learn from partners, and, in the best of cases, vice versa. Or?

  3. Manuel Flury says:

    Dear Ernst

    many thanks! I join your experience and look at team learning as a particularly priviledged moment in a team’s life.
    There are, however, as well limits. Learning always implies exposure of ones own strengths and weaknesses and at times it is easier to learn- and to progress – in an ad hoc group than in one’s own team.

  4. Manuel Flury says:

    Dear Nils
    many thanks for this practitioner’s view and assessment. I agree, it is basically a question of hard work. And consequently your conclusion is to be accepted: “those demanding and supplying a JLE must be ready to consider additional investments in preparation (funding a visit by the facilitator(s) before the event) and follow up (additional coaching or other follow-up activities)”. Under the lead of ITC-ILO a good practice guide concerning JLE will be developed and will have to include such important “lessons to be learnt”.


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