Joint Learning Journeys: with your travel agent GIZ!

April 03, 2013 | bit-wartung | Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences |


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A recent lunch event at SDC in Bern sparked some interesting thinking. It featured guest speaker Kerstin Kude-Osman from the Academy for International Cooperation, a part of the German development agency GIZ. Kerstin told us about the recently developed Joint Learning Journey (JLJ) method, which is a way to bring small groups of people involved and interested in a particular set of issues together, to come up with effective and innovative ways of doing things better.

By Riff Fullan, Helvetas

The concept

What stuck in my mind about JLJs is that they start with a BURNING QUESTION that is identified in a first meeting, and they are driven throughout by the sub-questions that come up as the group starts chipping away at the main one. So, the group sets off on a journey for which the destination is not fully known, but they have a good idea of where they want to go. There is a conscious attempt to deal with the complexity of the questions and contexts concerned by adopting an iterative approach: progress is monitored, questions examined and a new question formulated.

Open process

Another crucial element is ongoing, proactive facilitation. Given that the journey is somewhat open-ended (not only in terms of destination, but also in terms of ‘mode of transport’ [could be training, dialogues, reading, information sharing, etc.]), the facilitators play a key role in keeping the process moving smoothly and ensuring there is a tangible output at the end. The idea is to avoid a journey that may be fun, but ultimately not demonstrably useful, so they want to have some kind of crystallisation of the results.

We had a mini-workshop during the session (once we had finished our lunches), which focused on how people learn, and how we can contribute to deeper and broader learning. All in all, a lot went on in 90 minutes!

The buzz from the floor

What were the reactions from the Swiss crowd (SDC and partners)? We chewed over a few keywords like ‘expert’ (the JLJ travellers are called experts, but it is not meant in the sense of having this or that academic qualification, more those who might have a depth of experience and level of interest in the topic), and ‘exclusive’ (a JLJ involves a limited number of people lets say 10-12). This was the big tension: between designing a manageable process that produced tangible results, and leaving the space open for broader participation.

This led to the question of JLJs in a network context: in SDC networks, for example, a small group may be problematic, because it would exclude the majority of members. Plus, how do you propagate learning from the small group to others?
There was general agreement that the idea of a journey was a good one, and a key question is how to design and support such journeys in different contexts.

The JLJ approach has potential to support a deepening of understanding/innovation around a particular topic, but – as Kerstin also pointed out – it does not claim to be THE way to learn. So as part of a package of learning activities, it could help to push the envelope, get some deeper insights, and provide a more orderly complement to ‘messier’ but also meaningful learning processes which take place among larger and more diverse groups.

In the end the JLJ approach is an interesting addition to collaborative learning approaches such as (in the SDC context), the Decentralisation and Local Governance network’s learning projects, (and elsewhere) knowledge expeditions, learning alliances, etc.

What do your experiences add to the mix?


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