Crop Circle - Waylands Smithy (Ian Burt/

Decentralization done wrong

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Leave the global functions to headquarters, and shift responsibility for the field to those who are actually there (or close by). It sounds perfectly sensible. And, in fact, it is an approach to decentralization adopted by some organizations. What are its implications for learning strategy?

At the most obvious level, decentralization for those of us who work at the global – and, to a lesser extent, regional – level has reduced direct contact with the network. We often experience this as a constraint, limiting our ability to stay current with what is happening in the network to ensure that our work is closely aligned to the mission.

We duly note that privileged relationships with donors have been preserved at the global level, despite decentralization.

We observe mostly negative consequences of decentralization, even though in principle it should be the best support to take into account differences from one geographic region to another. In the organization’s culture of consensus and the political context for decentralization, such frustration may not be expressed publicly. Yet, decentralization is increasingly perceived as an important barrier to working with the network, much less working as a network. This is because responsibilities shifted but hierarchies remained to erect new walls that obscure knowledge and limit its flow.

How do we compensate when the ‘pipes’ of knowledge networks dry up or are dismantled? In working with those in the field, we leverage the fact that we are likely to be peers, often having ourselves “been there”. We rely on prior knowledge that we may have acquired through experience. However, we are keenly aware that what we know may be out of date. After all, how long can we be in a global position while being out of touch from the field?

Photo: Crop Circle – Waylands Smithy (Ian Burt/