Presented at the Interaction meeting in June 2010 and adapted from an article by Eric Berg and Beth Birmingham in “Monday Developments” (Aug 2010, p 37)
For years international NGOs have struggled to develop the skills and competencies of their staff around the world. This challenge has been complex and daunting: broad geographic dispersion of the target audience, a wide range of experience and competence levels, high levels of staff turnover, challenges identifying content, multiple language requirements, and very limited resources. Fortunately, there is good news.
Over the past decade, development organizations have been able to reach thousands of hew learners with quality learning content at very low incremental cost. What has changed? The introduction of learning innovations that help organizations address the ‘Four A’s’ of capacity building:
• Audience – Can the learning content be scaled to reach staff across the world?
• Appropriate – Is the content contextualized to the environments where it will be applied?
• Accessible – Are the learning resources there for staff to use when they need it and where they need it?
• Affordable – Can the resources be deployed given the resource constraints of development organizations?
There is no single simple solution that an address the ‘four A’s of capacity building. However a creative combination of innovation in learning design and content distribution, have enabled a number of organizations to successfully address the challenge.
Blended Learning Design
Enhancements in learning technologies are providing the opportunities for international NGOs to blend the best of their traditional approaches to face to face training with an array of new learning media (skype, webinars, etc.). One example of these “blended learning” environments is a 10-year collaboration between World Vision International and Eastern University. This leadership development program brings NGO leaders together once a year in their region (5 continents) for a workshop atmosphere. Faculty are a combination of both professors and practitioners from the region, serving as facilitators and coaches both in the residency environment as well as the on-line environment (using an on-line learning platform) that continues throughout the year. This on-going interaction beyond the residency or workshop ensures on-the-job coaching and greater implementation of the training content.
New Distribution Models
A second innovation in the world of staff development training is the introduction of new models for distributing learning content. Traditionally, learning has been ‘pushed’ through organizations from a central office without much regional contextualization. Increasingly new distribution models allow learners in the field to PULL the learning they need to their locations – when they need it, where they need it and in the form they need it. The new models are more flexible and available through self-service approach, whether that be through on-line courses, communities of practice, RSS feeds, webinars, or recorded content that is accessible through the internet.
One example, of this shift toward social learning is the work of the Project Management Capacity Building Initiative sponsored by LINGOs and PM4NGOs*. While the program can include face to face training approaches that are more formal where facilitators are ‘sent’ to lead trainings around the world; the same content that is conveyed through formal workshops is also made available through webinars, recorded sessions, and e-learning modules. Now, if an employee in Ghana wants to enhance her skills, she no longer needs to wait for a workshop to be conducted in Accra. Instead, she can begin working on her learning immediately. As a result of these new distribution models, she has a variety of choices from which to choose and can decide what best fits her professional needs, her personal constraints and/or her learning preferences.
While much attention has been placed on the use of new technologies, some of the most important recent innovations have been in the area of social learning. The Project Management Capacity Building Initiative, for example, invites all its learners (regardless of the distribution platform they use) to join open community of project management practitioners. In less than one year, over 750 project managers have joined an on-line community where practitioners from the development sector are available to discuss new approaches and provide guidance for any learner seeking assistance from the community. Similarly, the learning collaboration between World Vision International and Eastern University enhances its instruction through the use of a cohort model where groups of students move through the program together, employing peer support groups intended to support the application of the learning to their job situations.
For international NGOs, the introduction of these innovations couldn’t be more timely. Today, the need to build the capacity of local partners and national staff is more urgent than ever. With these new tools, there are now practical and proven approaches that can help ensure that appropriate, accessible and affordable training is available to a global audience.
*The case study of the project management capacity building work was presented at a LINGOs webinar in September 2010. To access the recording, click here