Coming into the position of MEL officer and learning about social accountability was not my ‘forte,’ but since embarking on this learning journey there are few lessons that I have picked up that I wish to share.
In civil society we are constantly battling the tension between having a lot to learn and a limited amount of time in which to learn. Civil society schedules are packed full of activities and deadlines driven by one thing only – achieving results. By the time all is said and done, there is just too little time or energy left for learning. Why set aside time to learn because others say we should when we could be using that time to achieve results? Time is precious, we need to put it to use wisely and no one can argue with that!
Being in civil society myself and having worked as an implementer before taking up a learning position, I remember being a worker bee, constantly on the go with my eye on the results. As I delve deeper into this Learning Pilot project, my job involves setting aside significant amounts of time with partners, helping them to reflect on all their hard work with the end of goal of improving social accountability practices for achieving results (note that the achieving results still remains central part of what we do). I have come to realize learning is by no means an academic exercise for those interested in developing pie-in-the-sky theories. Learning is an important exercise even more so for implementers because the barrier between them and the next level of achieving results may be the inability to value learning and setting aside insufficient time to learn.
Another obstacle to learning I have discovered is the risky thinking that as experts or implementers in our field we have learnt it all, so why keep learning? As we have discovered as a program, after a decade of training on social accountability and doing in country work on social accountability, we can’t stop learning. There is still so much to learn because contexts, times, people, policies are always changing and bringing with them new challenges. The only way to maintain the edge and expertise is to always be learning. By continuously seeing the value in learning and setting aside time and resources do so as an organization helps us.
I am also finding that academic learning is very different from learning in the real world. Learning in the real world need not be a complicated, time consuming, exhausting or confusing. There is also no need to fear failing a test or exam- the real world is there often is no right or wrong answers as nothing is ever black and white. We are dealing with diverse contexts and challenges, all we can do is experiment with strategies/activities, reflect on our actions, and adapt. You can achieve a whole lot in the real world by simply being observant and reflective or thoughtful.
In closing, here are some tips I have picked up about learning in the real world so far pilot:
- Value learning and make time to reflect on what you are doing and why as lessons emerging from doing sometimes contain the ‘secret sauce’ to moving to the next level.
- We are never expert enough to stop learning, there is always something new to learn. Always be learning!
- Don’t be afraid to learn from failure, there is often no right or wrong answers in the real world, even what we consider as failures can’t really be failures if we make note of them and learn from them.