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Awarding “good learning”

November 17, 2010 | Manuel Flury | Methods & Tools |

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Manuel picture for sdclanBy Manuel Flury
The Knowledge and Learning Processes Division of SDC intends to award a prize for “good learning” to collaborators of the organisation. For that matter we launched a debate in the km4dev community seeking examples of “good learning practices”. Besides of many proposals, documented learning from failures was proposed.
After visiting colleagues at their work place and getting to understand how they learn in their daily practice we became aware of the importance of self-initiative, of the key role of superiors to let them do what they intend to do and of the transformative power of such individual initiatives for the whole organisation.
Good learning combines “doing things better” and  “transforming the way, things are being done”, i.e. the individual and the institutional aspect of learning.

The original query to the km4dev community: What is “good learning”?

A special prize will be created in order to award “good learning practices” of collaborators of SDC. For that matter, the Knowledge and Learning Processes Division will invite collaborators to propose colleagues with outstanding and extra-ordinary merits related to “institutional learning” and bringing forward SDC’s institutional learning. The proposals will be submitted to an open rating in the SDC IntraWeb. In the call for proposals we’d like to illustrate what “good learning” is. For that matter, we invited the km4dev community to give us examples of “good learning” to be honoured.

The debate brought about the following proposals. Such a prize should be awarded to collaborators or teams for …
… using the organisation’s intraweb in an innovative way: championing by creating wiki conversation; championing in sending links (to the document management system) instead of attaching copies of documents.
… listening to and including critical voices from beneficiaries into policies.
… designing and implementing a learning oriented approach to regular team meetings (ie. not just creating a list of topics to be covered in an unreasonable amount of time but putting effort into thinking about the desired outcomes and considering which methods and tools will help them get there).
… focusing on the benefit a “good practice” creates, honouring its replicability or even more the fact that the good practice has been replicated already.
“good” learning from a “bad” practice, awarding the (good) way these bad experiences have been translated into a success.
stories “for pride and price” from the field.

Helvetas has launched a Knowledge Sharing Award for outstanding contributions to knowledge sharing and/or learning, benefitting to the organisation’s goals through learning collaboratively. Five criteria are mentioned that helped Helvetas to evaluate nominations:
(1)    tangible contribution to collaborative organisational culture: bringing in others into the work, convening, encouraging others to share
(2)    documented individual or organisational learning: video, wiki or blog article, document, story, capturing lessons and the way forward
(3)    new knowledge- or learning-related practice or policy: (peer) assisting others to doing something differently promoting collaborative learning
(4)    innovative and shared solution(s): recognising new virtual/f2f tools and methods that enhance sharing and learning
(5)    evidence of a significant contribution to a Community of Practice, such as regularly posting messages and facilitate sharing information and ideas.

A complementary step: How do colleagues learn in their daily practice?

We visited colleagues at their work places. We were interested to understand, how they learn as individuals during their work time, what “good learning” might mean in practice. We were astonished to find epicentres of institutional learning:
M compiled the story of bridge building projects in Nepal. The template he created has since been copied and adapted by other units for telling their own success stories.
J together with a team mate recorded the way they accomplished administrative and office work. From this initiative grew out a standard handbook for the whole department related to office assistant’s tasks. The head of Division has made this publication possible in allowing time and resources.
R is coaching his two young successors that co-lead the Division. This assignment has been formalised by his superiors in his terms of reference of a Senior Advisor.
D is exchanging informally with their neighbour programme officers. A regular informal exchange practice among the programme officers of the Division developed out of this individual endeavour.

What do we take out from the debate and from the visits?

Many examples of “good learning” refer to individual or group learning performance that may incite others to follow, to copy. By this they contribute to more conscious learning. Equally important are practices, that make use of existing spaces in a different way, more oriented to sharing and learning. E.g. in donor reporting: rather identifying common issues and discussing lessons than just listening to formal presentations. Or: reflective exercises around project evaluations or the formulation of learning-focused stories help to consider the way the organisation works and learns.“Good learning” may well be facilitated by knowledge champions that help to encourage sharing across units and regions.

Initiatives of individual collaborators to better organise their work, to exchange with colleagues on practical experiences, to coach younger colleagues in a new function or to communicate good practices may well lead to substantial learning steps of the organisation. The room and appreciation provided by the superiors are crucial to this end. The award for “good learning” would go to both, the collaborators and to those that made the better practice possible.

And finally, referring to the award: The best way of sharing good practices is ‘on the job’ and so communities and personal contact with others who have used the good practice is a key to success. Let us share the good learning practices by way of awarding them!

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