Tons of shattered glass, Robert Smithson's Map of Broken Glass at the Dia:Beacon (Augie Ray/

We need learning processes, not just tools

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Knowledge management and informal learning processes are not resourced, even when the organization may have made a significant investment to build containers for knowledge or its sharing. This “build it and they will come” approach has failed, time and time again. Yet the seemingly intangible nature of knowledge and learning processes makes it difficult to build a case to resource learning itself. As a cross-cutting, often unrecognized activity that enables work rather than produces results, how do we convince donors that it is worth the investment – paradoxically when donors are increasingly skeptical about the value of formal training? Photo: Tons of shattered glass, Robert Smithson’s Map of Broken Glass at the Dia:Beacon (Augie Ray/

Shards (Martin/

Wishful thinking cannot fix broken tools

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“Continuous learning at the individual level is necessary but not sufficient to influence perceived changes in [performance]. […] Learning must be captured and embedded in ongoing systems, practices, and structures so that it can be shared and regularly used to intentionally improve changes in [performance]” (Marsick and Watkins 2003:134). “I still can’t find it. And I still need to work on it. It’s a mess.” “That’s a struggle. I don’t have a good system on that.” In the last five years, we have mainstreamed the use of electronic media for communication and, to a lesser extent, for formal learning. The tools we use in learning (whether formal or informal) may change, based on need and context. We know that constant and rapid advances in technology and their costs make it difficult for headquarters (center) and field (periphery) alike  to afford or use the latest, cutting-edge tools. Tools that are officially …

Soon, my pretties... The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights, Disney Hollywood Studios (Hector Parayuelos/

Life-work balance

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Our connections include not only social life with colleagues, but also our personal lives with our partners, families and friends. Parental responsibilities, traffic jams in long commutes, or other challenges we face in our personal lives impact our level of energy and motivation for learning and innovation. We call for leadership that recognizes the need for better balance between work and family. The wellness of our families has a positive halo effect on our motivation to do more than what is needed simply to hold down our jobs.

Party time (Thomas Hawk/

Party time

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“Everybody in a fun environment knows more of each other.” We interact at a human – not only utilitarian – level to form social spaces in which we can build friendships that foster and reinforce the trust we have in each other’s work. Despite frequent mission travel, when and where team members are in the same physical location, they report a variety of shared social activities, described as “opportunities to interact”. The value of such social activities is recognized as fostering trust and friendship. Social events organized more formally by the team during work hours legitimize the value of our social interactions. We also recognize that there may be times when we are not available for socializing. Photo: Party time (Thomas Hawk/  

Base of silo (Astrid Westvang/

Learning is in the network

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“I knew them very well. That’s why it worked. Because we do work together.” We take responsibility for our own learning, yet keenly aware of the value for learning of engaging with others. It is when we find ourselves alone or isolated that we may best perceive the value of connecting with others for learning. One of the justifications for working in a silo is a very high level of specialization that requires being fully-focused on one’s own area of work – to the exclusion of others. We form networks of informal learning and collaboration in our team, with other departments in the headquarters, with the field, and with people and organizations outside the organization. Asking people is often faster than sifting through information. Technology facilitates building and sustaining small networks of trusted colleagues, large formal working groups, and more anonymous forms (mailing lists, discussion forums, etc.) that keep us …

Christakis, N.A., Fowler, J.H., 2009. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. Little, Brown.

Connecting to the environment

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“[…] you learn that you are not alone in dealing with a technical problem and sometimes you just need a second technical opinion. Sometimes, it does help if you listen to people who see it from a totally different perspective. To give you an example: [suppliers] are the providers of equipment and we are the demand side. There sometimes are good discussions to come to a common solution, which you don’t get if you sit at your desk […]. This sharing of technical knowledge as well as brainstorming around the technical problem with different stakeholders who see the problem from different sides, I find that really refreshing or rewarding. But that again, this is not formal training or whatever.” Photo: Christakis, N.A., Fowler, J.H., 2009. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. Little, Brown.

Silent silos (Indigo Skies Photography/

Against insularity

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“We came to understand because we have very good global connections.” How do we connect with other people, with other member organizations in the network, and with those external to it? How do we form and leverage networks? Where is learning in these networks? Beyond utilitarian purposes, how do connections with our colleagues and their organizations enrich our experience? We cannot afford to remain insular and inward-looking. Some of us may still feel that itis “more relevant” to “look into what we have internally already instead of looking too much externally”. Increasingly, though, we question the insular and inward-looking aspects of our learning culture. We cannot afford to remain ignorant of or uninterested in experiences outside of our membership, not when we recognize the need for change. We see that members are now more open to working with external partners and it is our responsibility to embrace and support this. What …

6509s. A work in progress (Bob Mical/

What is a connector?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Where some believe that the value of their network is based on its exclusivity, connectors are people in the organization who have developed large networks of people and who see their role in introducing people in their network to each other. This connector role is closely related to the knowledge brokering process that recombines existing knowledge and facilitates knowledge transfer. The relationships leveraged by connectors may be personal or based on prior experience rather than ascribed to the current role, especially in the context of decentralization. Building a dense network of relationships is a prerequisite for the connector function. As connectors, we are empowered toward the collection vision in which can act as knowledge brokers to foster, replicate, scale, and harmonize innovation by National Societies. Photo: 6509s. A work in progress (Bob Mical/

Wire (Kendra/

What does it mean to broker knowledge in a network?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Our network function requires that we interact with the network. We observe profound changes in the nature of knowledge, how it circulates, and this affects how we work (learn). Members in the network, too, have changed. We struggle to keep up with and adapt to these changes. In working with them, we prioritize results against their own expectations as well as those of donors and governments. Hence, it is difficult to justify learning approaches that take us away from such priorities. We wish for time after delivery to reflect on lessons learned, but such wishes may be swept away by the next urgent task. The alternative to this frustrating cycle of task delivery at the expense of reflection is to adopt a knowledge brokering approach. We broker knowledge when we link learning with innovation in the context of the long history of work done by the network. When trying to …

Danger of death (Lars Plougmann/

How do we learn from the network?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

When our organization’s hierarchy prohibits direct contact with the field, indirect and informal contact becomes more important than ever. Global and regional meetings, bilateral programmes, and various kinds of informal events provide opportunities for staying in touch. In fact, decentralization raises the stakes of informal and incidental learning – activities “flying under the radar” of decentralization’s hierarchical relationships may become the primary mode for learning about, with and for the field. How do we overcome barriers to learning from the network? First, when we reframe new ideas and possibilities, we ask how this aligns with the current characteristics of the nodes in the network (“the membership”). Second, we need to leverage continual learning to innovate, recombining and inventing new solutions (knowledge brokering). Third, we need to consider indicators other than the volume of programming, and consider how we can scale up quality. Photo: Danger of death (Lars Plougmann/