Action Learning in Action

Using the Lit Review process, participants explore Action & Reflective Learning

Using the Lit Review process, participants explore Action & Reflective Learning

The M&E technical working group continues to be my favourite Malawian project. Last week was TWG #4 where we further developed the idea of a centralised data base system and reviewed participants mini projects to improve data collection in their work. I was particularly pleased with this latter part of the workshop.

I started with a ‘Literature review’ on Action Learning and Reflective practice. This helped them better understand some completely new theory to all of them. After this backgrounding I ran a short sociometric exercise on how long they had been practicing M&E and from this created pairs with different levels of experience.

Some of the pairs with different skill levels helping each other in their presentation

Some of the pairs with different skill levels helping each other in their presentation

The next step was for each pair to help each other develop a 2min presentation on what they had developed in TWG #2, what they had done and to reflect on the process.

 

When asked to record what they had learned during the session, by far the majority referred to Action Learning in some way – some examples:

  • How the action research process works to improve M&E and the learning process
  • Learned from the actions taken by other M&E officers to achieve an improvement in data collection
  • At least that action research/learning, one needs to reflect and act upon the identification of gaps and what has worked and what has not worked
  • The application of action learning/research in day to day M&E activities and how it can help in reflection
  • The concept of action research and how to apply it in my day to day activities
  • What action research is and the importance of action reports
  • A reflection of the data collection process.
  • That I can use the action research approach to improve on data collection process of my project. It is good to get everyone involved in the process because it gets people talk the same language at the end of the day. – you plan together on what to collect and how – you implement – you reflect and then modify the tools or process where necessary.
Small steps or big goals? Not sure, probably too early to tell.

Small steps or big goals? Not sure, probably too early to tell.

M&E TWG

Introductory exercise at Workshop 1. Where's home, favourite book, academic background.

Introductory exercise at Workshop 1. My name is.. My family….  I studied……. My favourite book…..

A great joy of the year has been to facilitate the Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Working Group (M&E TWG). The organisation implements approximately 17 projects, often with multiple donors and always with a variety of reporting requirements. Thus there are currently 14 staff members who are responsible to a greater or lesser degree for the Monitoring and Evaluation of these projects. Physically they are spread out across eight districts with a 6hr drive between the extremes. The rationale for the TWG is to develop a peer learning culture to improve the quality of M&E across the organisation. To allow for travel, these six weekly one day workshops start at lunch time on a Thursday and finish lunch time the next day. We have now held three since Christmas last year, with two more before we leave Malawi.

mic&mo2

Is this a first? Workshop participants using their mobiles as a workshop exercise.

In the first workshop I took the opportunity to pick everyones brains about how to collect some data that the UK office wanted. A participant suggested that I could get it by looking at the various surveys carried out within the projects, a problem being that there is no central record of what surveys are carried out. At this point I took great delight in being able to break all the usual rules about mobile phones in a workshop. I handed out phone credit tokens to them all and offered a prize to the one who after phoning their friends could provide a list with the most number of surveys conducted during the previous financial year.

Ranking the quality of the various elements of an M&E system across the organisation

Ranking the quality of the various elements of an M&E system across the organisation

planning

Each participants plan to improve data collection processes in their project

In the second workshop I ran a self assessment process around the quality of each of the M&E elements in their projects.  Everyone then developed a small mini project that would improve the data collection process in their project. A fascinating insight came when I asked each to describe their project, outlining the steps and how they were going to monitor progress. At this point I was asked what I meant by monitoring progress, did I mean indicators or something? That making some notes in a diary was ‘monitoring’ seemed to come as quite a surprise to them.

 

The following session they all gave a report back – learning set style – no suggestions, only questions. Next session I’ll ask for some evaluation.

VSL

Village Savings and Loans are something like the original conception of the Grameen Bank, but perhaps even simpler. A small number of people get together and agree to save a regular monthly amount each. In rural Malawian villages this might be as little as 30c/month. As soon as there is some money, it is lent out to the members, with interest of sometimes as much as 25%/month. With this sort of interest rate, the ‘bank’ quickly increases its capital base. After an agreed period, the total earnings are distributed amongst its members.

In 2014 Concern Universal Malawi supported the formation of 1008 VSL groups with a total of 21,779 members. The funds in circulation are currently MK212,650,138, which is approximately $28/member.

We provided the school exercise book which is used for keeping the record. Austin is the Day group keeper and Robert the Night group keeper.

We provided the school exercise book which is used for keeping the record. Austin is the Day group keeper and Robert the Night group keeper.

After distributing the donations received to assist the guards in recovery after the wild weather of January (as per previous blogs), some late contributions came in. Rather than distribute these funds as per the first round, we were keen to try and build something more with the money. We thus suggested that they establish a VSL group. In fact, they decided to establish two, One for the day guards, the other for the night guards. In this instance we got Tiaone – a CU staff member known as the VSL Queen – to come and explain the concept and help them establish the ‘ledger’.  From there each group elected a book keeper and immediately distributed the funds. In fact my understanding is that most VSL groups in the villages don’t actually hold any money at all, it is all constantly out on loan. Security at payout time though is becoming an issue, together with stand over tactics by local power holders.

All eyes on the money. A great kickstarter for some small business enterprise.

All eyes on the money. A great kickstarter for some small business enterprises.

Whilst not the record keeper, I have become a member of each group to have a legitimate way of monitoring how it is all going.

Thank you!

We held a report back and next steps session with all eight guards providing reports. They all gave heartfelt thanks to all those that had contributed towards their recovery following the damage caused by the wild weather.  The all provided at least one other to vouch that they had spent the money on what they claimed.

Austin giving his report back with our Japanese and Cameroonian neighbours in the background.

Austin giving his report back with our Japanese and Cameroonian neighbours in the background.

Joseph Purchased buckets, plates and plastic sheet and also sent money back home to his wife in the village.

Austin, whose rental accommodation was not damaged sent all the money to his parents in the village who had lost everything.

Willard explaining how he'd spent the money

Willard explaining how he’d spent the money

Willard : Purchased bricks and rebuilt half of what was knocked down and plastic sheet to cover the remainder. He also sent money to his widowed Mother.

Leveson: Bought bricks and a bag of cement. Rebuilt half the damaged wall. Also purchased plastic sheet to cover the remainder and household items, e.g.: plates and bucket.

Francis: Spent part of the money on child in hospital and the rest on plastic sheet to cover damage and some household items.

Robert C.: Took child for check up to hospital. Also bought plastic sheet and roof poles. Purchased household items e.g.; plates, dishes and buckets.

Ali: Bought 2000 bricks and two bags of cement and a sheet of plastic

Robert: Bought 3000 bricks and 2 bags of cement

Grace translating the report  back sessions

Grace translating the report back sessions

 

As we have received some additional donations (thank you!) after the first workshop, we are trying a more community development focus with these funds. To start this we asked them for income generation ideas. (Grace was emphatic that they worked in pairs, otherwise she said they’d just say the same thing as each other) The ideas were:

  • Buy a goat and breed it
  • Buy flour and oil to make mandasi. Wife will sell by the road side
  • Buy second hand clothes or fish and re-sell
  • Pig farming
  • Set up a mini-shop to sell groceries
  • Find a job as auto-electrician (Joseph) or driver (Austin)

We asked them to come up with plans by the next meeting.

On a completely different and sad note, we attended Tigwirizane Nkhoma’s funeral yesterday. He was only 32 and apparently died of TB.

Bonding capital* rules – OK!

Grace 1

Grace clarifying the question in the first small group discussion

small group 1

Small group discussion Question 2

At change over time on Saturday, we ran a (rough) participatory budgeting workshop with the eight permanent guards for them to decide how to distribute the $550 donated by our generous neighbours and  Australian friends. We designed a process for the barely literate, that is with simple instructions, little written out. Through Grace our interpreter we first asked them to discuss with each other three questions, asked sequentially: How had the big storm effected them? What would they do if they had a little bit of money to aid recovery? How would they demonstrate to each other that they had spent the money in that way?

allocation

Allocating funds with sugar sachets

After this process, we provided each with twenty sugar sachets, each worth roughly MK1200. They were to allocate these funds to each other. They were not allowed to allocate funds to themselves. However, after each distributing their 20 sachets they came to a collective realisation that this process had resulted in an uneven distribution of the funds. They demanded an opportunity to do it again. However then they realised it would always result in an uneven distribution, and as they did not want any body to be jealous, they wanted to split the funds equally. We went to great lengths to impress on them that this was their decision, not ours.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

The Revolution: When they realised that the process would result in unequal allocation.

On Reflection: The designed process was OK in that they made the decision for equal allocation themselves. However I’m sure we could have designed something different that would have made them come to that decision without it being a revolution. Also even just having the names written was almost certainly too much writing for the (at least) one who was completely illiterate. (e.g.: We should have had photos).

They were all very grateful and wished to thank everyone that had helped them. They collectively decided that within the next two weeks they would each get two friends to visit them to see how they had spent the money  and report back.

*Bonding capital : Everyone with similar values – see each other through good and bad times, but don’t dare be different. Linking capital: Essentially all having the same values, but able to accept some individual differences. Bridging capital: Able to acknowledge and accept those with completely different value systems to oneself.