Documenting the documentation processes

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Organization Type: 

International NGO (INGO)

Describe the approaches utilized to measure / assess this KM initiative: 

As part of our efforts to facilitate documentation processes we have been trying to describe and analyse each documentation process: looking at issues such as the involvement of all those interested in analysing their work or at the main results achieved. In this way, we have been “practising what we preach”: following the same steps and recommendation we have been advising others to follow. Measuring or assessing each case has meant getting all relevant stakeholders to participate, and trying to get their opinions. It has meant describing each process (when did it start? Why? How did participants collect the necessary information? What were the main results?) while also paying attention to those parts of each process which did not work out very well, or also to the unexpected results. More important, this has meant not just describing a process, but rather carrying out a detailed analysis, finding reasons as to why things developed the way they did. A core part of our work has therefore been identifying criteria for this analysis, as those general ideas which can help us assess the success of the process as a whole, considering, for example, its overall management, the participation of stakeholders, its impact or its replicability. For each criteria it was then necessary to identify indicators, helping us measure or present the most relevant aspects (e.g. If a major criteria is the overall management of the process, a list of useful indicators would have included time-planning, the distribution of roles, availability and use of resources, etc.). Following our own recommendations, we have then tried to present these lessons in different ways (as articles in our magazines, in conferences, on our website) and to share them widely.


Rural development

What do you think are the main unanswered questions or challenges related to this field of work?: 

Many organisations recognise the need to document their work and share it with others, but in many cases their efforts follow a request from their donors, and not a true felt need. A specific challenge we would like to see addressed would be to find ways to make the best of this “outsider interest”. This would need to consider ways to make the benefits that a documentation process can bring clearly visible – and thus motivate the staff of development organisations and practitioners in general.

What was the purpose or motivation for assessing this KM initiative? : 

Our main interest has been to improve the way we work around a process which we believe is successful. By documenting each case in detail we have tried to identify the main issues that need to be tackled – according to those directly involved in each process.

What were the most important lessons learned about the assessment process?: 

A thorough analysis of different cases, in different parts of the world, has confirmed the main difficulties presented in the literature: there is always a lack of time and a lack of resources to document an experience. But we have seen that there are many other factors to take into account, and that these will largely determine the results. We have identified that the reasons for starting a documentation process are always different (from “showing what we do” and “advocating for change” to “learning from our own work”), having a strong impact on the overall motivation or participation. We have seen that the initial objective of involving all stakeholders is not always easy: we need to look at roles and responsibilities of those involved in the experience being documented and also during the documentation process, and we also need to pay attention to the power issues which influence someone’s participation (such as, for example, the presence of the organisation’s director). We need to look at the role of a facilitator during the process, at issues like team synergy and co-ordination, or at how well represented are all stakeholders in the process itself. We have learned that theoretical differences (such as those between “systematization” and “capitalization”) are minimal when actually documenting a case. And that all participants have difficulties with writing and presenting the results of their work, negatively affecting the possibilities of sharing the lessons they have learnt.

What would you do differently next time?: 

The strongest interaction we have had with all participants, in all cases, has been during a workshop (as the moment when the process starts). Our own documentation process has therefore paid more attention to these workshops. We need now to look at the post-workshop moments, and find ways to document all that happens and is achieved throughout a process in a better way, even if we are not present. This may require better planning during the initial workshop, and better communications during the following few weeks. We also need specific indicators to help our analysis.

Describe the KM initiative: 

We see a growing recognition of the role that agriculture can play in rural development (e.g. in increasing incomes or mitigating climate change), but not enough recognition of the role that small-scale farming is already playing. Our efforts in facilitating the documentation of best practices and field experiences have had the objective of looking in detail at what has happened and what has been achieved in selected cases; of helping draw specific lessons and making these visible, paying specific attention to the points of view and opinions of those directly involved in each case. Through a documentation process, participants organize the information available, analyse it in detail, present their results in a chosen format, and share them with others. We have been working with different rural development organisations in different countries, helping then start a documentation process, and also contributing to the dissemination of their results. By actually running a documentation process, our objective has been to show that it does not necessarily have to a difficult and complex process, while at the same time ensuring the participation of all relevant stakeholders. We have been especially interested in letting each process go beyond the description of an experience, finding and presenting the reasons why thing developed the way they did, and sharing the results in different ways.

What advice would you give to others based on your experience?: 

A documentation process works best if it is truly participatory. Our first recommendation is to ensure that this participation takes place, and not only during an initial workshop. Facilitators must find ways by which all stakeholders have a channel to express their opinions and to provide feedback, and that this is all taken into account. A second recommendation is to pay more attention to the moment when the lessons are written down (or presented in any other way) and then shared with others, assigning more time and dedication.