Sunday, October 15, 2017

Experience Capitalization, Another Approach to Lessons Learned

The vocabulary of knowledge management and organizational learning is a never ending source of learning, especially when practicing across industries.  While looking at United Nations activities around Knowledge Management, I came across the term "experience capitalization."  Intuitively, I knew what it was referring to but I couldn't remember ever encountering the term before.  My first instinct was to try to figure out how that might be similar to or different from variations of lessons learned activities.

Here's what I found:

Experience capitalization includes the identification of lessons learned and good practices, but it goes beyond identification to include a significant effort to create materials for dissemination of the lessons and good practices.  This reflects the international development context within which the importance of disseminating good practices and lessons learned through appropriate communication channels is paramount and perhaps more complex and challenging than dissemination in a corporate environment. The use of the term appears to be more prevalent in agricultural development (FAO, IFAD, etc...), which makes sense because the UN consulting request for proposals where I first encountered the term was related to an agriculture program.

For additional information, see the following:
In parallel, as I was preparing for some facilitation of lessons learned conversations in French, I came across the term "retour d'experience," which literally means "return on experience" but if I say "return on experience" in English it brings up a possible association with "return on investment."  Perhaps each experience can be perceived as an investment (in time) and the return on that investment in time can be in part measured by the lessons learned in the process, as long as the lessons are indeed properly identified, captured and shared.  

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Systems Thinking: The Fifth Discipline and the Learning Organization (Post 2)

The fifth discipline cover.jpg
In the 1990 Peter Senge classic, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, the fifth discipline is Systems Thinking, meant to integrate the four other disciplines (personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision and team learning).    The five discipline combined were presented by Senge as the pillars of the successful learning organization. 
Learning organizations are those organizations that encourage adaptive and generative learning, where employees think beyond the narrow confines of their specific job function and are able to solve problems by working with others towards a common mission based on an understanding of the bigger picture of how things work together, how parts of the organization interact with other parts to form an efficiently functioning system.  
How does this relate to my own experience?
At the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, for example, one of the most sought-after training is a series of workshops called "Road to Mission Success" which provide employees with not just a traditional overview of how individual departments (Directorates) work and what their respective responsibilities are -- which is a typical overview one might get upon joining Goddard through the New Employee Orientation --, but more importantly, how the departments work together to accomplish first-of-a-kind and one-of-a kind missions. Designed by the Chief Knowledge Officer (Dr. Ed Rogers) rather than the training department, Road to Mission Success is an illustration of professional development activities developed based on the recognition that being a learning organization requires individuals within the organization to understand the entire system so that they can contribute more effectively and work more productively with others across the organization.  No external, generic training can achieve what Road to Mission Success does for Goddard because it is developed and delivered internally and leverages talent within the organization. Any other organization would need to develop its own, completely different version of this course while using the same underlying principles.
I don't think personal mastery is sufficiently addressed in the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center approach to the learning organization because individual growth and personal development are the domain of human capital and not particularly well integrated with the rest of the organizational learning and knowledge management activities. Mental models and the development of a shared vision are tackled through knowledge sharing workshops and case studies.  Team learning is addressed through Pause and Learn (group reflection) sessions. 
Again, as I have noted many times before, the personal or individual dimension of knowledge management and learning are often not sufficiently integrated and aligned with team and organizational aspects of the learning organization.  It's a big missing or misaligned piece of the puzzle.

    Monday, September 04, 2017

    Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning - Initial Thoughts (Post 1)

    This month of learning is going to be an experiment in Working Out Loud (WOT) or more specifically Learning Out Loud (LOL).  Systems Thinking is the theme and I'll write posts based on what I learn and wherever my thinking is going.

    Here's a simplistic way of grasping the concept of systems thinking: Nothing operates in a vacuum. Everything is part of a larger system.  When we analyze things (whether objects or problems) as if they operated in a vacuum, we are missing the bigger picture.

    Here is how it relates to some of my work.  I help projects document their lessons.  A key challenge I have as a facilitator is to get project team members to focus on what THEY (within the team) learned and could have done differently or will do differently in the future as a result of their experience and consequent learning.  Inevitably, the team will refer to challenges that were brought upon the team that were outside their control.  The project can be thought of as a system, but it is part of an organization, which is a larger system, and it is connected to outside stakeholders who are part of an industry, which is an even larger system.

    Insight:  While it is essential to push the team to focus on THEIR lessons, it is equally important to articulate lessons at other levels, to adopt a systems thinking approach.   When I talk about individual, team and organizational learning, and then intra-organizational (or perhaps industry) learning, I may be talking about systems within larger systems.  How do we ensure appropriate lessons are captured at all levels?  The lessons are distinct at each level, yet interconnected.

    Here is how systems thinking relates to some of my earlier work in international development:  Individual international development projects have little chance of having any significant impact unless they pay attention to the broader context.  In the old days, we talked a lot about donor coordination and supporting country policies so that the country environment was more conducive to specific development efforts and donor activities didn't overlap or conflict.  I think (hope) that nowadays, approaches based on systems thinking are more prevalent.  Coordination of donor activities and alignment of policies may be a good start but certainly not enough.

    Question:  What's the connection between systems thinking and issues related to scaling development interventions to have a larger impact?

    Question:  What's the relationship or connection between systems thinking and design thinking?
    For reasons unclear to me at this point, the concepts of systems thinking and design thinking are co-mingled and confused in my mind as if I was meant to connect the dots between them and yet I don't grasp either of them well enough on their own to make the connections.


  1. Harold Jarche, Working and Learning Out Loud, blog post, November 10, 2014.
  2. An example from USAID's use of systems thinking to support efforts in the health sector: Complexity and Lessons Learned from the Health Sector for Country System Strengthening (2012)
  3. Monday, August 28, 2017

    Learning Plan for September 2017

    September is just around the corner.  From a biking perspective, I can anticipate a few long bike rides in the cooler mornings.  From a learning perspective, it will be all about systems thinking, complex systems and visualization, combined with my ongoing interest in building bridges between individual learning, team learning and organizational learning.  This interest is based on the observation that individual learning is typically the purview of the Learning and Development (L&D) department within HR, while organizational learning may be in a completely different part of the organization, including under IT if it is perceived as part of a IT-based approach to knowledge management.  My gut tells me that part of the reason for the gap is that L&D tends to focus on formal learning approaches (aka training) while organizational learning is typically more experience-based.

    Here's an initial half-baked insight/hypothesis:  The bridges to be built involve 1) reinforcing the informal, experience-based aspect of individual learning; and 2) strengthening corporate training based on experience-based organizational learning.

    The question I will try to address is:  How can I apply systems thinking and related methodologies or tools to address complex systems to come up with a more integrated (systemic) approach to learning within organizations. 

    A couple of secondary questions (which might confuse everything and send me down big rabbit holes):

    • How can learning itself benefit from systems thinking?
    • Can insight mapping support a systems thinking approach?

    Here are my starting points:
    • Visible Thinking: Unlocking Causal Mapping for Practical Business Results (a book I recently discussed in a blog post)
    • SPACES MERL: Systems and Complexity White Paper (USAID 2016) ... which is where I learned about...
    • Systemigrams (visual representation of complex systems) and another book.....
    • Systems Thinking: Coping with 21st Century Problems (2008)
    • My own insight mapping practice as well as....
    • Previously posted insights about systems thinking and....
    • A need to clarify the difference between design thinking and systems thinking (I think I confuse them)
    • I also signed up for Degreed and I'd like to test how much I can get out of that learning platform for a rather narrow learning exercise as this one. 
    Anticipated Outputs:
    • Extensive notes added to my Organizational Learning wiki (internal)
    • At least three blog posts and at least one integrative map (public website)
    • Draft presentation package for future use/adaptation, etc...
    • and if this all adds up to something of sufficient value, a post on LinkedIn.
    How is this as a "learning plan" for September?
    • It's bounded in time and scope, though the scope could escape me as I dig deeper and a month might not be enough.
    • It has some intrinsic value for me in terms of learning.  Motivation to learn about this will NOT be a problem at all. I will need to schedule it as a core task to make sure sufficient time is allocated.
    • It spells out possible outputs which will force me to wrap up my own thinking and write things down in useful formats, contributing to other objectives, such as populating the blog with fresh insights and developing materials for presentations, possible lecturing/teaching or other forms of training/capacity building.
    I shall see at the end of September if I achieved all that and where my expectations were off track.

    This is my YOL (Year of Learning) after all.  I might as well make the most of it and plan for it.  I think it's called Walking the Talk. :)