Learning with a sector

What is your most effective bet if you are trying to stimulate an entire set of institutions to continually share knowledge, learn together, improve decision-making and coordination?

At IRC we have been struggling with this question for a while and the answers are not obvious, their applications yet less so. We are still working on it under an overall banner of ‘sector learning’ (1). It is a rather odd concept since a sector (2) learns arguably as little as an organisation – and what is a sector anyways? Nonetheless this is the fuzzy starting point for our quest towards a better learning sector. And we have found ways to make it more practical.
We have been using mainly two approaches to accomplish sector learning:

  • Resource centre networks (knowledge networks offering independent information products and services to a range of institutions and promoting knowledge sharing and information management);
  • Learning alliances (multi-level multi-stakeholder processes aiming at using social learning to generate and apply innovative solutions for complex issues);

IRC's sector learning brochure - another one to be pimped this year!

2011 is the last year of our current Business Plan and therefore a crucial year to document our work – based on ongoing ‘process documentation’ (or process monitoring). It will be a crucial year to look into these two key approaches and understand better what works and what has not delivered as much as hoped.

A first workshop in December 2010 already helped us look at the resource centre network’s contribution to sector learning. On top of our list of issues came:

  • How to sustain commitment and interest from the institutions that are members of such knowledge networks?
  • How to ensure the sustainability (financially and otherwise) of such networks?
  • How to assess (and measure?) the relevance and outcomes of the work performed by resource centre networks?

These are only three of the various issues that we have to deal with and none takes a simple answer. We have a lot to learn about learning in a sector that is in a permanent crisis mode, whose organisations react too late to too many opportunities, where field staff really is not feeding back their crucial experiences to other levels and where donors and governmental agencies could integrate their frameworks and budgets a lot better.

So keep watching this space for more! And let me know if you’d like to join up thinking…


(1)    A brochure about sector learning – which needs to be updated is available on: http://www.irc.nl/page/53011. Our thematic pages on sector learning are on: http://www.irc.nl/page/50054

(2)    In this case, the water, sanitation and hygiene – WASH – sector, but the challenge would arguably be similar for other fields of development.

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One thought on “Learning with a sector

  1. Pingback: Learning with a sector | Learning for Change

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