Introduction a la capitalisation d’experiences: Note de synthese du module de formation
This document was written to support a two-day course aimed at the staff of non-governmental development organisations working in the field. It starts by discussing why it is necessary to work on the “capitalisation” of experiences. Among the reasons, the authors consider the need to “fight against the evaporation of experiences”, and the importance of being part of a collective process for the generation of knowledge. They then look at different definitions, pointing out that capitalisation is a process that helps give value to what people have learnt and know, and ensures this knowledge is not lost. Capitalisation differs from an evaluation (which compares an initial situation to one found after a period of time), and is also different from research or an external study.
Capitalisation aims to improve local practices by building on the experience acquired. It is therefore more than a description of facts or activities. It is normally an activity that takes place during a project (“capitalisation in vivo”). The process needs to be adapted if, for different reasons, it is necessary to carry it out after a project has finished (“a posteriori”).
A capitalisation methology
According to the authors, a capitalisation process must not follow a fixed methodology. It should only be based on a flexible structure that can adapt to the context in which it will be used. After considering who is to be involved, the authors propose four major phases as a basic structure to follow: the definition of a reference framework, the identification of major turning points, the identification and classification of local knowledge, and the definition of a pattern or model (“modelisation”).
- Reference framework. The first step is to create this framework on the basis of the capitalisation project or experience. This is done by collecting information from all the actors involved in it and from previously written documents (such as project reports), to establish a chronological timeline. This can be done by asking all participants to make their own timeline, and then agreeing on a collective one. It can also be done by looking at different life histories, not necessarily taking place simultaneously, but shaped by common elements.
- Major turning points. These are the most significant changes taking place during the chosen period of time, or the internal and external factors which shaped the development of a project. These are identified in the timeline resulting from the first step. Identifying these turning points helps keep the documentation process in focus, preventing those taking part in it from getting lost in information. Preferably, these turning points must be given by those involved in the experience, and not by external agents.
- Identification and classification of local knowledge. This third step starts by looking for new competences or new abilities among the stakeholders involved as a result of the experience being looked at. This is done on the basis of the turning points identified above. The aim of the capitalisation process is to understand how these elements were built, and how the major difficulties were solved. It is therefore essential that the analysis goes beyond a simple description of the preliminary situation and of that found after the project, or beyond a list of ideas justifying the decisions taken during it. These competences, abilities or knowledge, are then divided, separating those which are specific to a given context, and those which are transferable. At the same time, they are divided between those which can be seen as coming from outside and those emerging from the project itself (“endogenous”). This is important when looking at the way to improve one’s own actions, or when thinking of practices which can be replicated elsewhere.
- Definition of a pattern or model. The objective here is to provide ideas for future actions (bearing in mind that the context will never be identical), or to identify alternative options to the path followed by the project. This is also the moment to present all those lessons or ideas which, not being limited to a particular experience, can benefit other projects. This is done by identifying the best media for diffusion. The guide makes a difference between a model and theory. While the first is just meant to inspire readers, a theory is supposed to “fit” in similar ways in all situations, with “reproduceable” results. And while theory is generally made by an external observer, keeping a distance from the object, a model is produced by the actors themselves.
The authors finish by looking at the capitalisation process within the project cycle (as a process which can be employed at various stages and times), and by presenting different ways of seeing it and carrying it out.