Eight lessons on fostering learning in large research and development programmes

Learning-driven, adaptive approaches to designing research and implementing programmes are increasingly popular in fields such as international development. Among funding agencies there is also a growing trend towards “multi-project programmes”, the grouping together of many projects under a single umbrella programme, the aim being to enhance how projects,

organisations and individuals exchange knowledge and learn from one another. Tiina Pasanen and Blane Harvey here outline eight emerging lessons on fostering learning in large research and development programmes; from a warning never to make assumptions about a collaborative mindset, through the importance of investing in facilitated face-to-face engagement, to the need to regularly review and adapt learning mechanisms.

Learning-driven, adaptive approaches to designing research and implementing programmes are increasingly popular in international development. At the same time, we see a growing trend within many funding agencies toward grouping together a number of projects under a bigger umbrella programme or portfolio. One of the often expressed aims of these “multi-project programmes” is to enhance how projects, organisations and individuals exchange knowledge and learn from each other. Ultimately, this learning is expected to lead to better development programming and impacts.

Large learning-driven programmes give rise to new opportunities and challenges for those who design, manage, and implement these types of initiatives – as well as for those engaged through them. But what do we mean by learning? Learning by whom and about what? And if it is one of the key mechanisms to address complex issues such as climate change, accountability, or women’s empowerment, how can it be supported, especially in programmes of this scale?

This is what we, as researchers and advisors in think tanks and governmental organisations, have reflected on and –  yes – learnt in the early years of implementing large climate change research programmes such as PRISE, BRACED and CARIAA.

In our recently-published reflective analysis we looked at these programmes as emergent communities of practice. This framing offers a way of looking at how large programmes support or hinder learning through three key dimensions that define communities of practice: joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and shared repertoire…

Retrieved from LSE (London School of Economics and Political Science

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