Joint Learning on Pastoralism – a process of experience capitalization among SDC Programme Officers

March 03, 2016 | Leonie Pock | Methods & Tools, SDC Experiences |


Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Manuel Flury SDC Programme Officers of West Africa and the Horn of Africa engaged in a joint learning process on pastoralism. In a series of meetings they collected, synthesized and exchanged experiences in eight key topics of this area. Manuel Flury and Charlotte Nager take a step back and reflect about the added value and the limitations of such an experience capitalization process.

By Manuel Flury, SDC, Addis Ababa and Charlotte Nager, SDC, Berne


Blog CapEx

Herders in Biltine, Chad; Photo by Markus Eggenberger, SDC 

“Learning from the experiences from the Sahel” stood at the beginning of the joint learning on pastoralism among SDC Programme Officers (PO) of Bamako, Ouagadougou, Niamey, N’Djamena, Cotonou, Nairobi, Addis Ababa and Berne. As the focus of the new cooperation strategy of SDC in the Horn of Africa – formulated in 2012 – was put on supporting pastoralists’ economies and lives, the link to related experiences of SDC in the Sahel was established. It was at that time decided to undertake a joint process of experience capitalization.

(For information about the process, the approaches and the learnings of the participants, see the CapEx Pastoralism-story in English or French.)

The CapEx was meant to document experiences made in order to allow others in other contexts and at other moments in time to learn. At the same time, this CapEx would allow “learning now”. The Programme Officers participating would receive answers to their open questions and by doing so, “transform” knowledge into new and changed practices in the context of their programmes and projects. The PO acted both as “knowledge bearers” and as “reporters” of knowledge of others. The methodology, therefore, included both elements of (1) gathering and compiling experiences of others and (2), through the validation, bringing in the own experiences.


The methodology included compiling experiences of others as well as bringing in own experiences”.

A team of two external experts joined the CapEx-process. One assisted the group as process facilitator whereas the second expert coached the group in order to ensure the quality of the content. The two experts established permanent contacts with all members of the group and proposed a common framework – the template for the CapEx briefs – for compiling the answers to the Guiding Questions identified initially by the participants of the learning process. And they supported the Programme Officers in the compilation of the experiences of others – through the facilitation of workshops or contacts to relevant organizations. During a five-day workshop in Kenya, all the participants gathered and engaged in peer reviews of the draft CapEx briefs. After final editing these briefs are made accessible on the internet.



CapEx Workshop Isiolo, Kenya; Photo by Hynek Bures, dubbed perceptions

Looking back almost two years after the launch of the CapEx, the process facilitation team identified the following elements to be decisive for the success of the learning process:

  • The initiative came from the field and not from the Head Office” as one participant mentioned. The work was done mainly by POs in the field, considered to be SDC’s “knowledge bearers”. They were the ones to identify the topics to focus on, to compile the experiences made and to synthesize them in the CapEx briefs. The CapEx was anchored in the work programmes of the A&FS Network and the West African Working Group on Food Security and Rural Development. All concerned SDC Offices were highly supportive.


  • “Teamwork to develop a comprehensive document is enriching and improves quality.” Face-to-face meetings and workshops for capturing experiences, peer assistance at the validation workshop at the end of the work and the video story-telling are key elements of this successful methodology.


  • The review of written material can best be outsourced.


  • External process facilitation and thematic coaching proved highly useful. It would best be associated right from the beginning of a future CapEx.


  • “Short f2f interactions (interviews, events) to gather experiences rather than deep document studies as well as peer feedback and coaching for improving the CapEx briefs (need to be maintained in a future process).” The way the POs gathered experiences varied: interviews with experts, reviewing documents, using ordinary events and meetings with partners in order to discuss and identify interesting projects and experiences, and special short workshops discussing particular CapEx themes among and with partners such as the two mini-workshops organized.


  •  “Long learning journey is excellent, but shorten the timing (duration) of the whole process,” as two participants recommended. The main process went over more than one and a half years, which was considered by all involved to be too long to be able to keep up the motivation for active participation.

However, the process demonstrated as well the limits of the extent to which POs can engage in thematic work as project management tends to dominate in urgency. Furthermore, the CapEx briefs refer to a particular country or regional context. This reflects the original intention of the thematic POs to find answers to issues they lacked sufficient knowledge in their particular contexts. In order to generalize or to “decontextualise” the results and to render them relevant for any context, further investigations and a modified set-up would be needed, also to include experiences from a broad range of pastoral life, beyond the two focus regions.


All in all, the group realized that pastoralists in general face similar challenges as the ones discussed in the CapEx briefs. Support to pastoral development, therefore, in any case would require answers that take into consideration the specific socio-cultural and political contexts. Saying this, the CapEx briefs carry important messages relevant as well for others than the two focus contexts of this learning process.


Learning for the future” and “Learning now for the future”.

Capitalization of experiences can take two forms. The one we would call “learning for the future” consists in documenting experiences made in order to allow others in other contexts and at other moments in time to learn. The second one we would call “learning now for the future”. The “knowledge bearers” – in our case SDC POs – are the ones capitalizing experiences in order to advance their knowledge. By doing so, they “transform” knowledge into new and changed practices. This CapEx included both forms: POs learnt for the development of own projects; and the documented experience will inform others.


The high level of individual commitment by all involved made this cross-continental, cross-regional and cross-country joint learning process a success.


Further information

On the A+FS Shareweb you find the CapEx briefs and the final report of the learning process:

On the shareweb of the Team Learning & Networking you find the Multimedia-Story of the Experience Capitalization:

There you find also more information on the process of Experience Capitalization:


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