Integrating Knowledge Management and Learning in Projects - The Zambia Experience

Derived from an interview with Jasper Hatwinda, Rural Finance Project, Zambia

IFAD provided a three-year grant to IFADAFRICA towards integrating knowledge management and learning in IFAD supported projects in Eastern and Southern Africa. Through this grant, projects were brought together and began to explore how to improve project performance and create greater impact for project beneficiaries.

After three years, Jasper Hatwinda shares what he has learned and how the Zambia portfolio has benefited from the KM initiatives, what they have achieved, what they are doing differently, and what they would like to do differently when it comes to integrating KM in projects and institutions.     
To have relevant KM initiatives, there is need to start by identifying existing bottlenecks, setting objectives and coming up with an action plan on how to change the situation

Jasper Hatwinda, shares the Zambia KM experience
After the first KM workshop, the Zambia team sat and agreed on what the priority areas would be. The starting point was what they wanted to see changed. They agreed that what they wanted to see was: 1) more government ownership of projects initiatives and improved policy environment, 2) Enhanced project design that was more inclusive, and 3) Meaningful Country Programme Management Team Meetings.

For each of these, the team identified the entry points or existing opportunities. For instance, the existence of a Programme Reference Group for Rural Finance provided a good opportunity for making project design more participatory and inclusive. This Group made it mandatory for projects to share lessons learned and with time, these lessons had to be utilized in future designs. With the knowledge management initiative, the mandate of the PRG for Rural Finance to ensure that projects are put to task to share lessons learned.

The policy dialogue initiatives have been useful in responding to the need for improved delivery of rural financial services in Zambia. Consequently, a Rural Finance Policy has been developed. This is one of the concrete results of the understanding of what Knowledge management, learning and sharing involves, and how it enhances delivery of results.

What are you doing differently?

To this question, Jasper’s response is an explanation of the various small, subtle but very crucial things that they do in what to him is a more effective way. First has been the requirement that all projects include ‘lessons learned’ in the Annual Work Plan and Budget (AWPB), as well as in the Annual Report. The projects also started holding workshops to share the AWPB, to review these plans and tease out the lessons learned and what can be done differently to get better results. These workshops have served as accountability forums and they make each participant think through what they have done, what they are going to do and how to improve. In these meetings, there is an opportunity for peer review and critiquing, which makes clearer the issues for improved implementation.
Knowledge management and learning opened our eyes to see what we were not doing very well, what we could do better
As a result of the awareness created in us by the KM&L forums that we could do things differently and better, we took an initiative to take a study visit to Uganda and Tanzania to learn about the policy environment and structures for putting up functional rural finance policy. In Malawi the Community Based Financial Institutions Promoters learnt about the Village Savings and Loans Associations and upon return streamlined the savings and credit approach across all partners and adopted the VSLA methodology comprehensively. In particular expansion initiatives were included where the Village Agent and Cluster Committee framework later assisted the RFP to increase its coverage, efficiency and sustainability, says Jasper.

Enhanced project design is another key benefit for Zambia, which has directly resulted from the awareness and integration of KM&L. Before, project design was entirely a preserve of IFAD consultants and the IFAD country office. Project staff and government participation was limited, and including project experiences was not desired as part of the design formation and conceptualisation.  However, with the KM&L initiatives, projects started to push for the inclusion of lessons learned from implementation of other projects in new project designs. An in-country design team, led and chaired by the line ministry is mandatory for the design of new projects. This has so far worked well for the design of the new Rural Finance Expansion Programme, which is based on the lessons learned from the Rural Finance Programme.

The Zambia team also sees a difference in the way Country Programme Management Team (CPMT) meetings are conducted. Previously, these meetings were held in a hotel in Lusaka and participants relied on stories that various project teams shared. They were mostly ceremonial but did not include discussion of the real issues faced in day to day implementation. With the lessons derived from the KM&L initiatives, the country team decided to hold these meetings in the field while visiting respective project sites. Project teams were required to collect and document lessons learned between meetings, and these lessons were used to write an official communiqué to ensure that those issues that needed follow-up could be followed. KM&L changed the face of CPMT meetings. Currently, there are greater synergies between projects as a result of sharing of experiences, lessons and challenges. The most important change is the now clear understanding by project teams that there are ways of doing things differently, it is okay to try these different ways, and that even when something does not work, there is a lesson to learn.

Participants of the KM&L workshop 2013