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Learning- the final documentation challenge? These are the blogposts of the PSAM Regional Learning Programme Learning Pilot Technical Team....

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Seizing Windows of Opportunity and Jet Lag

My  life as a consultant often involves too many plane routes and travel schedules. It is less glamorous than it sound. Pack and unpack, do the laundry in less than a few days. Adjust to different time zones with little time to recover. Still get the job done. During the trips, the waiting area in an airport or  the little “desk/tray” in the plane - when the person in front does not recline  their seat- are  potential temporary offices where work competes with movies, sleep, and time to grab a meal. The beginning of this project was no exception. Check out how thinking on this project happened in real time. 

20+ hours on the road (Johannesburg, South Africa / Sao Paulo, Brazil / Buenos Aires, Argentina)

As you may have read in a prior post, a  window of opportunity for  learning had opened up for the PSAM regional learning community in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. When I said goodbye to colleagues at  Bulawayo’s airport and O.R. Tambo, I had no certainty about whether that window would effectively remain open.

I took 3 flights and a six hour road trip to get “home” and  all I could think was “the clock is ticking” to grab onto this opportunity.  I had  “lots of time” – although it never seems like enough – to think about what could make or break the agreement to embark on a regional learning pilot. 

I  kept going over all my notes from Bulawayo as I stepped in and out of planes. My head was spinning around how to best work with a community of social accountability practitioners that has identified a need to get better at learning and doing together?. A complex puzzle to put together, many pieces. How could we identify all the relevant  partners’ urgencies and interests and put together  a shared roadmap that made sense overall and for all?
2 weeks to come up with a roadmap (Santa Fe, Argentina)
Clock ticking indeed. In two weeks, I had to come up  with the broad parameters of a joint roadmap that would help the partners we met in  Bulawayo (now working in their homes across Southern Africa) decide to join in.  We needed to build on our conversations, but think beyond Bulawayo. Would this roadmap help people convince bosses and colleagues at  “home”  that a leap of faith and potential benefits of learning were worth the risk and costs of joining the pilot?   
So... what were the make or break issues that the roadmap needed to consider and how to balance concerns?

2 weeks and a recurrent thought: Is there anybody out there? (Rosario, Argentina / Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) 
Lots of work went into creating a living document, open to comments and modifications to make sure we were on the same page with all (or found good enough compromises for all).  In the document we invited PSAM’s partners to send us expressions of interests were they willing to experiment with us.
A temporary sense of relief  came to us when this tentative roadmap was off. The wheels were turning. We are starting to move forward. But of course, relief is short lived when the clock is ticking.
Then, we faced THE question. Will we receive any expressions of interests to actually implement the roadmap? How will our proposal be taken? Would it meet the expectations of the people in Bulawayo?  You’ll have to come back to learn what happened next.

Florencia Guerzovich

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Learning About Learning

Coming into the position of MEL officer and learning about social accountability was not  my ‘forte,’ but since embarking on this learning journey there are few lessons that I have picked up that I wish to share.
In civil society we are constantly battling the tension between having a lot to learn and a limited amount of time in which to learn. Civil society schedules are packed full of activities and deadlines driven by one thing only - achieving results. By the time all is said and done, there is just too little time or energy left for learning.  Why set aside time to learn because others say we should when we could be using that time to achieve results? Time is precious, we need to put it to use wisely and no one can argue with that!
Being in civil society myself and having worked as an implementer before taking up a learning position, I remember being a worker bee, constantly on the go with my eye on the results. As I delve deeper into this Learning Pilot project, my job involves setting aside significant amounts of time with partners, helping them to reflect on all their hard work with the end of goal of improving social accountability practices for achieving results (note that the achieving results still remains central part of what we do). I have come to realize learning is by no means an academic exercise for those interested in developing pie-in-the-sky theories. Learning is an important exercise even more so for implementers because the barrier between them and the next level of achieving results may be the inability to value learning and the inability to set aside sufficient time to learn.
Another obstacle to learning I have discovered is the risky thinking that as experts or implementers in our field we have learnt it all, so why keep learning? As we have discovered as a program, after a decade of training on social accountability and doing in country work on social accountability, we can’t stop learning. There is still so much to learn because contexts, times, people, policies are always changing and bringing with them new challenges. The only way to maintain the edge and expertise is to always be learning. By continuously seeing the value in learning and setting aside time and resources to do so as an organization helps us.
I am also finding that academic learning is very different from learning in the real world. Learning in the real world need not be a complicated, time consuming, exhausting or confusing. There is also no need to fear failing a test or exam- in the real world is there often is no right or wrong answers as nothing is ever black and white. We are dealing with diverse contexts and challenges, all we can do is experiment with strategies/activities, reflect on our actions, and adapt. You can learn and achieve a whole lot in the real world by simply being observant and reflective or thoughtful.
In closing, here are some tips I have picked up about learning in the real world so far:
·         Value learning and make time to reflect on what you are doing and why as lessons emerging from doing sometimes contain the ‘secret sauce’ to moving to the next level.
·         We are never expert enough to stop learning, there is always something new to learn. Always be learning!
·         Don’t be afraid to learn from failure, there is often no right or wrong answers in the real world, even what we consider as failures can’t really be failures if we make note of them and learn from them.

Yeukai Mukorombindo

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