Systematization of experience is a method aimed at improving practice based on a critical reflection and interpretation of lessons learnt from that practice.
The methodology encompasses the identification, documentation and transfer of experiences and key lessons extracted from a project or an initiative, or group of projects or initiatives for the purpose of advocacy, learning and replication/scaling up. Systematization does not end with the description of the experience and results, but involves a deeper insight into how it was possible to achieve what was achieved – what worked and what did not?, What were the key factors for success?, What could have been different and why?– in order to facilitate the exchange and use of development solutions.
Systematizations can be done at any point in a project or initiative. If done at the beginning they have to be embedded as reflection spaces and milestones in the project cycle, and generate mid-term products that are distributed to internal audiences for internal learning and improvement, scaling up, etc. The knowledge products as a result of a systematization process include but are not limited to guidelines, toolkits, how to briefs, roster of experts, and case studies.
The method originated in Latin America as early as the 1960s. It emerged out of an increasing desire to document and communicate lessons learnt in field practice, whilst the conventional approach at that time tended to be a linear transition from theory to practice with no regard for critical reflection of the practice. According to Oscar Jara, “A new relationship between theory and practice appeared: instead of applying to practice what had previously been formulated in theory, theoretical approaches are built having as a starting point the systematization of … practices” (2006, p.14).
Three disciplines contributed to the method: social work, popular education and development facilitation. What these disciplines have in common is that they are all practical rather than theoretical disciplines.
Systematization is used widely in development, mostly in Latin America but increasingly in Asia too. Use the method if you're looking for a systematic way of documenting lessons learnt in field projects, and with the intention of using those lessons to improve subsequent phases of your project. You should be prepared to communicate the lessons learnt back to the community in which you operate, so that they too can benefit from your project team's experience.
The methodology is in particular useful in the following situations:
a. Learning and institutional reflection:
b. Knowledge sharing, transfer and use for effectiveness and innovation:
Stages of the process
Step 1: Plan the Exercise - Purpose, Focus, Participants
Purpose - As with all other knowledge sharing exercises, it is important to know why you are doing Systematization before you begin. Perhaps it is a donor request. Perhaps the responsibility for project improvements lay with you as project manager. Whatever the case may be, make sure that you are clear about the purpose of the exercise before you embark on it.
Focus - Choose an appropriate juncture of your project to systematize. This could be the end of a major deliverable or a milestone. Do not wait until the end of your project, especially if it's a very long one, lest people forget what has happened.
Participants - The people who have undergone the experience must be part of the Systematization, whether they are the government officials or beneficiaries on the ground.
Step 2: Reconstruct the Experience
You can reconstruct the experience using a timeline chart.
Step 3: Analyse and Interpret the Experience
Use “5 Whys” to get to the root of a challenge that occurred in the project.
Step 4: Communicate the Results
Depending on the target group, this can be done using videos, photos, brochures, radio programmes, cartoons, etc.
A. Selection of project
Select the experience or project to be systematized with care. Systematization involves a considerable effort and investments in time and money. You want to do this investment in situations where it is worthwhile. Here there are some key criteria to consider before undertaking a systematization initiative:
B. Purpose and focus
The following questions can guide you in defining the purpose and focus of the systematization:
C. What else should you keep in mind?
(add your story)
(add your name/contact email)
Resource Pack on Systematization of Experiences, ActionAid
Jara, Oscar; “Theoretical and practical orientations for systematization of experiences”, Long Term Training Course on Development Education, 2006
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