The Horizontal Learning Program is like Real Life Facebook

October 16, 2012 | bit-wartung | SDC Experiences |


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Tommaso TabetHorizontal learning enables communities to share best practices within and across communities. In this blog post Tommaso Tabet, SDC agency in Dhaka, in collaboration with engaged HLP Friends, explain that it is a tool for sharing good practices, replicating and liking them, and therefore has much in common with the world’s most popular social media.

By Tommaso Tabet and HLP Friends, Dhaka

In development jargon, capacity building means that there is an identified lack of knowledge or skill – capacity – that needs to be addressed in order to make development possible. Often the underlying assumption is that the capacity has to be brought to the community from outside.

In Bangladesh SDC is supporting a program that turns this assumption around: the program is based on the premise that capacities already exist in the communities. Thus the challenge is not the lack of capacity but rather the lack of networking and exchange of ideas between the communities.

So, much like Facebook and other social media have enabled people to share experiences, the Horizontal Learning Program creates a space for communities to learn from each other.

For instance, one village might have solved their arsenicosis problem, while a community nearby is suffering from symptoms caused by arsenic contaminated ground water.

One way to tackle this is to go to the village and tell them what is wrong and teach how things should be done. However, another possibility is to invite the representatives of the second village to the first one and let them share their experiences. Which one do you think will work better?

In one arsenic affected area families started sharing wells with their neighbors. While those with arsenic free wells shared their water for drinking, others with contaminated wells provided water for other purposes such as washing. This practice, which effectively made it possible for everyone to enjoy safe drinking water, was replicated through Horizontal Learning Program and has spread to numerous places around the country.

local governance in sunamganj Photo:Local governance in Sunamganj   

Basics of Horizontal Learning

1. This brings up the first principle of the Horizontal Learning Program: peer-to-peer learning.

Peers form ‘communities of practice’ that will exchange ideas. Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. Examples of communities of practice are: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

Learning from peers lets the learners experience and discuss the good practice and eventually adapt the practice in a way that suits their own needs. An important element is that the good practice is not necessarily replicated as is, but rather the way it best fits into a given environment.

2. The second key point in the Horizontal Learning Program is what is called ‘appreciative inquiry’. It means that when sharing experiences, the focus is on positive things. It is too easy to fall into the trap of pointing out all that is wrong. So, as a methodological principle that has been ruled out.

 3. The third key principle is that horizontal learning appears to work best in domains where knowledge is tacit rather than codified. Knowledge in practical matters is not something that can be easily passed on to another person in an explicit way.

Thus Horizontal Learning Program acts as a ‘midwife’ in giving birth to new insight and new knowledge. It tries to bring out the ample tacit knowledge in rural Bangladesh and facilitate its spread within communities.

…And just like Facebook, Horizontal Learning is not in itself a revolution, but can offer a platform for a revolution to happen. In this case, a revolution of knowledge and learning.


Read more: Over the Horizontal Learning in Bangladesh:



Comments to“The Horizontal Learning Program is like Real Life Facebook”

  1. Adrian Gnägi says:

    Superbly done, Tommaso. Crispy, funny, highly contageous. Congratulations!

  2. Dear Tommaso and Adrian, YES indeed! And I can only say I would like to see more of this kind of blog posts on the SDC Learning & Networking Blog!


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