Learning from experiences: Its limits? Its future relevance?

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Original Message

From: Corinne Sprecher, posted on 2015/03/06

Hello KM4Dev Community! I’ll try once more, as it seems the message did not make it into some/many mailboxes last time. I trust there are quite some well informed and visionary people on this list and I would thus like to explore with you the limits of learning from experience and implications for KM of development agencies in the future.

Let’s put it this way: KM practices have put a lot of emphasis on learning from experiences, e.g. in commonly known methods such as experience capitalization, lessons learnt and good practices. At the same time we have become aware of the limits of learning from past experiences, just to mention some:

  • Significance of the context: Can experiences be transferred to other contexts?
  • Success – scale – fail syndrome: Replication and scaling up of experiences made by others and solutions of others often lead to failure.
  • Lack of experience and urge for new solutions: Complex future challenges in development cooperation and in partner countries sometimes cannot effectively build on existing knowledge of development cooperation.

As Einstein has put it: “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind-set that created them.”

Do you feel limits of learning from experience in your work? What is your approach to dealing with (or side stepping) these limits? What relevance do you think will learning from experience have in KM in the future?

Actually, this query is part of a work I do for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), gathering some ‘food for thought’ for the future orientation of KM and organisational learning at SDC.

Looking forward to reading your answers and engaging in a discussion!

Kind regards, Corinne


All replies in full are available in the discussion page. Contributions received with thanks from:

Eva Schiffer
Ewen Le Borgne
Jaap Pels
Valerie Brown
Peter J. Bury
Ueli Scheuermeier
Camilo Villa
Pete Cranston

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