Experience capitalization is referred to as “capitalisation des expériences” in French and “sistematización de experiencias” in Spanish.
When we start a capitalization process, we always tell our partners why it is important to capture our learning in a product that we can share with others. We are talking about avoiding repeating the same mistakes over and over again, reinventing the wheel, not knowing what our successes are and why, not learning from our failures and telling others that they could fail too, and losing the organizational learning that we have built through the process when people leave, among others. But wait! Are we doing this with our capitalization experiences? The answer is no.
Two weeks ago, I was in Rome for the first meeting of the “Capitalization of Experiences for Greater Impact in Rural Development” – shortly, I will tell you the purpose of the meeting – invited (as an expert) by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA, its French acronym), and, then, we faced this ugly truth: we have failed to do something that we recommended others to do. We have been doing capitalization processes with our partners for nine years (in more than 20 cases) but in our home (CIAT), almost nobody knows. Actually, other people from CIAT might have been doing capitalization processes and we did not even know that. But we would really like to.
The purpose of the CTA meeting in Rome
Since April 2016, CTA has been implementing a project (Capitalization of Experiences for Greater Impact in Rural Development) in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), funded through a grant from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). This initiative focuses on building capacity in using the experience capitalization approach in projects and organizations; for this, all four institutions are collaborating to involve other partners in the main expected outcome: that the experience capitalization approach is used in rural development initiatives to improve analysis, documentation, and the sharing and use of lessons and good practices. All of this is based on the insight that the capitalization approach complements quantitative and qualitative research and assessment methods by revealing the stories behind the numbers.
CTA invited us to the meeting, along with a pool of experts, seeking reflective ideas and suggestions about where, how, and under what criteria to choose organizations or people to work with the project for the next two and a half years.
During the meeting, we also heard that a partnership among global and regional partners, facilitated by the FAO, has developed an online learning module on experience capitalization, aiming to provide the necessary conceptual and methodological tools to plan and implement an experience capitalization process. Another goal of the meeting was to receive feedback and complementary resources for the module. This module will be translated into and adapted to French and Spanish, to be used as support for the project efforts.
So, turning to us and our public confession through this cathartic post, we want to share with you part of what we shared with the experts in the meeting in Rome.
Brushstrokes of our capitalization experience
As part of our work in linking farmers to markets, since 2007, we have worked in capitalization processes with more than 10 local and international organizations such as Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Nicaragua and El Salvador, CARE, Cáritas, the Regional Center of Cauca for Productivity and Innovation (CREPIC, its Spanish acronym), the Foundation for Technological Development of Agriculture and Forestry (Funica, its Spanish acronym), Heifer International, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, Save the Children, SNV, Swisscontact, VECO MA, and Vallenpaz, among others. However, this time we want to highlight the experiences developed with CRS Nicaragua for many reasons that we could summarize as we have been growing together (CRS and CIAT) through the capitalization process. For example,
- In the beginning, we started the capitalization process at the end of a project and, in the last initiative (nine years later), we started from the planning of the project.
- In the beginning, we did not know exactly what the difference between evaluation and capitalization was, and now we have articulated both processes.
- In the beginning, the process had three moments: (1) a kickoff workshop with three days of theoretical issues for training the technical staff who capitalize their own experiences, (2) a writeshop to begin capturing the experiences, and (3) a backstopping moment in which we gave feedback about the capitalization documents. Now, we have the same number of moments, but, in the first one, we have only one day (and not all the day) for theoretical issues (minimizing our methodological guide to one page). Technical staff start to write about their own experiences in the kickoff workshop, and in moment two we have (1) peer review sessions with every experience and (2) a learning fair to share the preliminary results from the capitalization process and to receive feedback from other actors involved in the experiences.
Additionally, we have proved that the capitalization products (the documents) serve evaluation processes because, on two occasions, these products were used in later evaluation initiatives to understand and deepen the results from monitoring.
For more information about our experience with CRS, please visit the website about capitalization experiences, promoted by CTA (still under construction).
In the next months, we will share in detail ‒ with anybody from the CIAT community interested ‒ our learnings from our last experience with CRS, because now we face the challenge to deliver the evidence that we have about capitalization experiences as a necessary approach for a greater impact in rural development. If you are interested, please express your interest by clicking here: