I recently facilitated a day-long effort to discuss and capture lessons learned with a group of participants from West Africa and the Maghreb region. While I have worked extensively in Africa in the past, this was a return to international development work after a decade of work with engineers and scientists in the aerospace industry.
There were a couple of elements in the design of that day of lessons learned that contributed to making it less than 100% successful (perhaps it was 75% successful, not a disaster at all). One such element was a potential mismatch between the group conversation style which is part of the local / regional culture on the one hand and the facilitation style and approach on the other hand. I want to figure out what I could have done differently in the design of the sessions as well as in the facilitation approach and my own communication style.
It's difficult to disentangle the communication/conversation style issue from the lessons learned paradox which stiffles real learning in the international development community.
Note on the lessons learned paradox: Facing strong pressures to document successes and share success stories, international development partners, especially those whose existence depends on continued funding from donor agencies, have little incentives to take a hard, honest look at their programs and projects and discuss -- let alone learn from -- what isn't working. This isn't just a problem of lack of individual psychological safety within a group. It's a problem at the organizational and industry level. The incentives are simply not supportive of learning based on open, honest conversations. Instead, the focus is on providing "evidence-based" results.
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