just do it (better) – iii

Hello from much cooler, damper and altogether more pleasant Kampala.

On Friday I said I was here in Uganda experimenting. 

Why? Okay. Rant pants on.

Flying sucks. Sucks time, sucks money, sucks autonomy out of your programmes. Approaches to building capacity in your teams, your people, you partners, that are built around on flying or even extensive road travel, well sorry, they are Teh Sucks. If there’s a plane ticket or a 12-hour drive or a week away, between your team at the pointy end and the voice of experience they need? Sucking. Yes, nothing beats face to face contact and communication. Personally: love it. We’re wired for it. But when there’s costs involved and limited budgets – and there’s always limited budgets – the people who get the high quality learning opportunities, skew senior. They skew male. Skew expat. Skew: not the young mother in the finance office who’s doing a great job but has rugrats to look after and can’t really travel to Nairobi or even up from Dire Dawa to Addis for the workshop so, oh, maybe next time. Maybe the time after that. Maybe in 3 years? Maybe never?

Well, skew that. I don’t like it. I don’t like it and I think we can do better. If we can’t come at gender equity in something so fundamentally controllable as our own internal approach to learning opportunities, we should get the hell off the soapbox.

A few years ago I kicked off the first proper formal & structured use of live online training sessions in my HRI affiliate, also known as (dumb word alert) webinars, on the enthralling subject of grant management. We did this in the months after the GFC when budgets were being savaged. As a result it was pretty easy call: make it work, or have nothing. Fortunately we made it work.

It was quite a revelation. Previously we had an expensive, unreliable Chinese whispers game of persistently out of date training materials and train-the-trainer.  Suddenly we had a small team in HQ, who instead of just training the HQ, could train practically the whole world. Almost without breaking a sweat.  No flights, no jet lag, no hotel bills; much more frequent and assured quality learning opportunities for staff all over, and somewhere above an 80%+ cost saving. Using a pretty robust platform over sketchy connections called Elluminate, we reached (are reaching) about 80% of regional, country and field office locations that want to join these… webinars (eugh). Reaching more staff, more junior & more national staff, more women, more often. Lost cost, less jollies, less CO2. Total win. Except for the people not getting training jollies. Tough.

But what about the 20% beyond that, and the partners they’re working with out beyond that, where project management (not grant management) skills are probably the most critical? Can we reach them effectively but on the cheap? Can we be sure we’re having an impact on their efficacy?

So this time I’m trying a bit of a randomized controlled train to find out.

Approach A. Uganda. Old school: week of training, zero followup, hope for the best, see where they are in three months.

Approach B. Tanzania. Distance learning. Individual study, plus group work within project teams to mutually support, reflect, learn. Optional virtual coaching via skype and/or email etc with instructors and experts elsewhere. Six weeks at just a few hours per week that can be integrated fairly painlessly into day to day working. PMDPro exam in week seven. And then, four more weeks post-exam follow through and further guided integration into team practices. Starting shortly.

Approach C. Ethiopia. Both barrels: a ‘blended learning’ combination of approaches A and B. What happens if we double down, do we get better improvement for the investment? Kicking off this week.

Approach D. Other countries around the region. No learning intervention at all, just collecting the same monitoring data as A-C over time.

So yeah. To sum up, I’m trying to validate whether we can have a really funky, cheap, equitable, scalable solution that takes learning opportunities to the front lines of the organisation and beyond it to partners, focuses on team-learning and change not individual knowledge, which improves our fundamental effectiveness, all without anyone ever having to get on a plane or drive twelve hours to make it happen. (Obviously this meant the first thing I had to do was get on a plane and drive twelve hours. Oh, scienceyness, you are a quixotic maiden.)

So as much as I really enjoy face time and chowing down on goat livers with our staff at the sharp end, if we have a system where people like me are constantly doing that, we are failing. That’s why I should never have to see these guys, or any other team like them, again.

Easy peasey? Most likely result is that I’ll get a jumble of data and fail to really prove or disprove anything. But having a go has got to be better than business as usual. Ask me at three and six months.

At this point I suspect you’re probably thinking one of two things.

You are most likely agog at the wonderfulness of all this adaptaliciousness and thinking me both a mensa-level and Adonis-like aid functionary. You are probably failing to resist the urge to scream excitedly as if you were schoolgirl in the presence of The Beatles circa 1963. This is normal. You see I am constantly beset by such throngs of ecstatic aidlandistan undergraduates, interns and junior members of staff. Ladies, please.

Except of course, not really. You are most likely thinking… so what? Hasn’t this guy heard of the Open University? Distance learning and e-learning aren’t new or innovative at all, not even in Africa, what a melon head. What’s the big deal? And where are the mobile phones in all this, eh? eh?

I’ll wrap this up tomorrow.

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6 Comments on “just do it (better) – iii”

  1. Zoe Rose says:

    First off – congratulations on your excellent use of Kate Beaton comics.

    Second – I heartily approve.

    Third – and where *are* the mobile phones, eh? Eh? *taps foot*

    In all seriousness though, I think you’re onto something here. The meat of my comment is a bit feeble – it’s ‘I look forward to seeing your results’.

    I’ve got no predictions, I just want to congratulate you for doing the research. It’s about bloody time – thank you for doing our (i.e. the elearning community) job for us. Kudos!

  2. This is fantastic. Many of our training partners are using B and C. Good luck and interested to see how the experiment goes.

  3. Mike Culligan says:

    Cynan – Please keep this coming! As you say, this will be difficult, but the results will be important!

    Among the challenges will be to ensure that there is enough data to arrive at valid conclusions. Given it is difficult for one agency to collect robust quantities of data – another option is to coordinate your studies with data collection efforts from other NGOs (VSO, LINGOs, GEPAL, WVI, other?)

    As you know, VSO has data that tracks its results when they moved one of their orientation training events to an on-line format. The report indicated that the financial savings over a year were approximately 200,000 pounds and that the level of satisfaction of training was higher than the data collected from f2f events.

    If your results could be coordinated with results from other studies – hopefully we could begin to develop a “constellation” of data results that support the underlying hypotheses.

    Let’s stay in touch and see if we can share instrumentation between what you are doing and what others are doing in similar efforts, if we can start to share survey design and indicators, then possibility exists to align your results with results of others.

  4. Definitely looking forward to future installments. Thanks for sharing your learning!

  5. […] just do it (better) – iii […]

  6. […] on project management that I wrote about back in February. You can read part one, part two, part three and part four. My colleague is in Tanzania, the ‘condition 3′ country – distance […]


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