Know What You Know: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge in VC Monitoring, working draft ver1
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Know What You Know: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge in VC Monitoring, working draft ver1



Value chain development nurtures changes in attitudes of market actors and relationships between each other. Through this new patterns and routines of behaviour are incubated and when successful these ...

Value chain development nurtures changes in attitudes of market actors and relationships between each other. Through this new patterns and routines of behaviour are incubated and when successful these deliver transformations in the competitiveness, inclusiveness and equitability of market systems. While competitive upgrading of a value chain or shifts in the distribution of value across market actors are objectively observable, the more intangible emerging properties of the system – such as changing attitudes, relationships and routines of behaviour which result - are more difficult to measure. It is essential to track these however since these are foundational leading outcomes for transformations of the market system that are sustainable and for the development of the adaptive capacity of the system in the future.



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Know What You Know: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge in VC Monitoring, working draft ver1 Document Transcript

  • 1. Know What You Know: Harnessing Tacit Knowledge inValue Chain MonitoringThe Groove Learning Network M&E 4 VC SeriesPrepared by Alexis Morcrette (Practical Action) with Christian Pennotti (CARE)The GROOVE Network forms part of the USAID-funded New Partners for Value ChainDevelopment Learning projectDraft 1.2 - October 2011
  • 2. Attitudes, relationships and routines of behaviourValue chain development nurtures changes in attitudes of market actors and relationshipsbetween each other. Through this new patterns and routines of behaviour are incubatedand when successful these deliver transformations in the competitiveness, inclusivenessand equitability of market systems. While competitive upgrading of a value chain or shiftsin the distribution of value across market actors are objectively observable, the moreintangible emerging properties of the system – such as changing attitudes, relationshipsand routines of behaviour which result - are more difficult to measure. It is essential totrack these however since these are foundational leading outcomes for transformations ofthe market system that are sustainable and for the development of the adaptive capacityof the system in the future.Good management in complex systems: responsiveness and adaptive capacityUnderstanding how attitudes, relationships and routines of behaviour amongst marketactors are changing is not something that programs can afford only to measure at the endof an intervention. Market systems are highly complex, made up of intricatelyinterconnected and interdependent parts, and are ever-changing and adapting. This meansthat even careful design and planning will only prepare a program partially – there willalways be surprises in implementation. Market systems are also highly context specific, sothere are no reliable recipes for success (add two teaspoons of sugar), only guidingprinciples (use a spoon not a knife to add sugar).Difficulties and even failures are to be expected, at least at first. What is important is tobe able to learn from and react to difficulties and failure. To do this, program teams needto be responsive and adaptive: - Responsive to the information feeding back from the market system about the effectiveness of their actions; - Adaptive based on continually changing understanding of the context.For example, in a rice value chain program in Ghana, Engineers Without Borders (EWB)worked with input dealers, trying to facilitate them to expand their businesses andprovide better information to farmers on chemical and fertilizer use. On paper there was apromising opportunity to facilitate a change in business behaviour which could lead to win-win outcomes: an expansion of business for the input dealers through customer loyalty,
  • 3. and improved access to quality products and information for farmers, contributing in turnto better practices and an increase in yield.In practice though, none of the input dealers were interested. The reality was that eachinput dealer was selling to their network of family and friends. This was well understoodand informally accepted by all. Beyond a little give and take, everyone had their ownstore of inputs. When the situation of arose that a customer asked for an input of whichthe dealers had no stock, they would recommend another store nearby instead ofconsidering procuring it themselves for the customer. Trying to facilitate change here waslike squeezing water from a stone: the field coordinators were trying to increasecompetitiveness in an environment that wanted to maintain a status quo of networks offamily and friends, with a low risk, low input, low output equilibrium.Realistically EWB could not have known about the resilience of this low equilibriumsituation in advance, and ex ante it made sense to try to change it. Only in retrospect didthe difficulties become clear.Good management in complex situations is not about trying to avoid these ‘failures’ but tolearn from them, and improve in the next iteration of the program intervention. EWB’seffectiveness should be judged not on this stumble, but on how they responded toinformation about these difficulties and their ability to adapt to their continually changingintelligence about the system.Does a traditional monitoring system serve responsive and adaptive programs?Typical monitoring systems and the indicators they track don’t create the kind ofknowledge that is very good at supporting responsive and adaptive decision-making. Thisexample, loosely based on some of Practical Action’s experiences facilitating the dairymarket system in western Nepal, illustrates this: In hill districts of Nepal Practical Action’s dairy program is facing the challenge of strengthening the ability of smallholder dairy farmers to connect with district storage facilities more efficiently and reduce milk wastage. A series of market analyses told the team that dairy cooperatives could become strategic actors to overcome the challenge. The team worked to strengthen the cooperatives and their leaders.
  • 4. On paper, this plan looked robust but in reality the process proved difficult. The program’s monitoring system tracked outcomes around quality and volume of milk going through the cooperative and membership rates of poor farmers in cooperatives. In some cases it told program management firstly that milk that cooperatives were collecting wasn’t improving in quality. Secondly despite producing increased volumes and quality of milk and having newly connected access to cooperatives many poor producers were not selling to them. What the management also needed to know was why that might be. Field facilitators were in a position to see what was going on. Why wasn’t the quality of milk improving? The cooperative leaders had a strong interest to sell their own milk to the cooperatives, regardless of its quality. They also wanted to maintain their community relationships with farmers contributing poor-quality milk. The district storage centres had weaker demands on milk quality than expected. And why were many poor farmers not selling to the cooperatives? Rather than welcoming new smallholder farmers to join the local cooperatives, existing members preferred to protect their capture of cooperative profits by keeping the membership to the cooperative small. Non-member farmers are allowed to sell their milk to the cooperatives, but could not access the benefits that members enjoy. Reacting to this attitude, some farmers preferred not to sell to the cooperatives.This example highlights how the formal and traditional monitoring system of thisintervention was able to pick up that something was not going to plan, but could notexplain why. In contrast the field facilitators, who frequently visited the cooperatives tosupervise activities and provide business coaching where required, naturally picked up onthe community power dynamics at play and could understand what was going on.What information, when and for whomPractically speaking then, what should a program do to be as responsive and adaptive aspossible?First of all, a program must know what it needs to know: A program must keep track ofthe intangible properties of market actors and their interactions with each other on whichsustainable, tangible market transformations are founded. These properties include:
  • 5. - Market actors’ attitudes towards themselves: levels of confidence and motivation; - Market actors’ relationships with each other: their prejudices, respect and trust; - Market actors’ interests or incentives that drive their business behaviour; - The patterns of behaviour and routines of practices themselves.Furthermore, a program must know what to look out for: It must also track how itsinterventions are affecting these properties, and be open enough to gather informationnot just about expected consequences, but also the unexpected feedbacks that arecharacteristic of a complex system.Thirdly, a program must know when to know: What is important is not just what kind ofinformation needs to be collected, but also how it must be packaged for use. Since theobjective is for the program to be responsive and adaptive, the critical factor here istiming. Information must be collected, collated, analysed and presented in a state toinform decision-making quickly, ideally as close to real-time as possible.Finally, a program must know who knows and who needs to know: Given the content ofthe knowledge that is desired, it is primarily the field staff who have access to it. Thefield coordinators and facilitators are the ones who frequently interact with market actorsand are able to get a sense of their attitudes and interests and directly observe theirbehaviours. It is also the field coordinators and facilitators who are the ones who cangauge immediate effectiveness of intervention activities against desired outputs andleading outcomes.Those who need to know this information are the program decision-makers. Top levelprogram managers are obviously very important decision-makers, but in valuedevelopment program decision-makers are typically found all the way along the staffstructure. Some examples: field coordinators tend to have decision-making control overwhat specific strategies to take in facilitating activities; cluster or area managers canmake choices about the sequencing of some activities, and allocation of in kind resources,even if they don’t have control over budget allocation and the program of activities.In summary, a responsive program relies on knowledge: - About intangible properties of the system and the early and lagging effects of program interventions on these properties; - That is quickly turned over; - That is mostly learnt by field staff and useable by decision-makers.
  • 6. Know what you knowThe good news is that the kind of knowledge that satisfies these characteristics isknowledge that can be created by any program with often limited additional resources.The bad news is that harnessing it requires an approach – system and process – quitedifferent to traditional monitoring systems.This example describes the experience of a field coordinator in CARE’s ADAPT project inZamiba: A field coordinator is walking to her truck after just wrapping up the second of ten planned rural seed fairs she has organized that month. This is the first time she is leading these events on a new project intended to improve smallholder access to and use of improved inputs. Historically, these have seemed expensive, difficult to access and unreliable, often not performing as advertised. The fairs are also intended to increase private sector interest in pursuing the smallholder market, which from their hubs in Lusaka still seems fragmented and not terribly worth investing in. As she walks away, the field coordinator notices that a number of producers are crowded around, talking with two reps from a new seed supplier. She passes a second group and can overhears them talking about the skit on good agricultural practices. It was pretty funny and they learnt a lot they say. The field coordinator is happy that the ministry of agricultural extension agents finally committed to doing it. There were some empty booths, of course, because two suppliers hadn’t showed up but she’s just received a text from one that attended praising the event and asking about the upcoming ones.ADAPT is tasked with developing a sustainable network of over 600 agro-dealers, and seedfairs played a key role in building demand and interest across all actors including inputsuppliers, agro-dealers, entrepreneurs, producers. Ultimately ADAPT has been quitesuccessful with over USD 35 million worth of inputs have been sold through the networkover the past three years. This was not always the case however and the seed fairsthemselves evolved over time as staff learned how best to get people to attend and howto make the most effective use of the time at the fairs.This example highlights some of the myriad of things that field staff observe as theyfacilitate intervention activities. These informal observations provide a basis on whichfield staff can make a judgement about how well the activities go. Their opinions of howwell the activities have gone are more than just gut feelings. They are informed by
  • 7. conscious and semi-conscious observation and experiences that together build up a body ofevidence to support the judgement. A field staff may not be able to pin down this body ofevidence, but their judgement may nevertheless be very informative.This kind of knowledge of field staff is tacit knowledge: understanding developed throughexperience, difficult to transfer because its foundations are built implicitly. Importantly,the headline impression or judgement of tacit knowledge is can easy to communicate withothers. What is difficult is to justify this impression. In the example from ADAPT when thefield coordinator picks up her phone to tell her manager about the fair, she will probablybe able to say that it went well and that momentum amongst market actors for change isbuilding well. She might not be able to explain why she thinks that (she might not havebeen conscious of the effect on her impressions of seeing the producers crowd around theinput supplier reps).When tacit knowledge of field staff is properly harnessed, it can serve precisely the needsof responsive and adaptive program decision-making: - Intangible properties of the system and the early and lagging effects of program interventions on these properties – Field staff may (often do) need guidance to condition their conscious and sub-conscious to look for the right signals about markets’ attitudes, relationships, behaviours and practices before and after intervention activities. This will enable their tacit judgements to be well-informed. However, their views ‘from the field’ are precisely the perspective from which information about intangible properties of the system and effects of program interventions can be seen. - Quick turnover – The process of internalising information, building evidence and making judgements is all semi-conscious in the case of tacit knowledge and happens quickly over just a few days (at most) after the activity. This means that field staff can begin to share their impressions and the signals they observed (if they have received some guidance on what to look out for) with other project staff within days of the activities. - Learnt by field staff and useable by decision-makers – Clearly field staff tacit knowledge comes from the field, and if the right space is created for them to share their impressions openly and honestly, it can be made explicit and transferred to other decision-makers (remember the field staff may themselves be decision- makers).
  • 8. Harnessing tacit knowledge – Key principlesNo one knows exactly what the right approach to harnessing tacit knowledge looks like.That’s because it is context specific and therefore looks different in different programs.Just like market systems, knowledge systems are complex and so the analogy with thespoon applies here too.The e-consultation confirmed however that there is a broad agreement about what someof the characteristics of an effective system comprise of and there is also considerableconsensus on what a good process to get there involves. We are all aware of what thechallenges are too. - Ensure a common understanding of the entire program logic across all staff: Program staff should never only focus on their immediate responsibilities and activities. They should also keep in mind how these contribute to the logic through which the program hopes to achieve its objectives. Only by continually placing individuals’ responsibilities and activities within this wider understanding will it be possible for staff to keep an eye out for information that may be useful for decision-making. It is particularly important to emphasise how leading outcomes around attitudes, relationships and routines of behaviour are critical to achieving lasting impacts in value chain competitiveness, inclusion and equitability. This will enable the field staff to recognise how their activities on the ground contribute to the program’s objectives, not simply through the delivery of activities, but only if the activities result in these leading outcomes. Participatory results chain (a.k.a. causal model) mapping, where staff from across the program work together to develop the logic of the program, is a test tool that can enable this common understanding. - Orientate field staff towards ‘killer’ assumptions: There is always a huge amount of things that field staff can look out for, so it is always useful to spend some time prioritising some areas of focus. Areas of focus can be defined against ‘killer’ assumptions in the program’s logic at the end of the participatory results chain mapping process. A killer assumption refers to a critical assumption underpinning the logic of a program, an assumption which if it does not hold will make it impossible for the program or a major component of the program to achieve its
  • 9. objectives. Further orientation can take place at the field level, the day before an activity, or even in the vehicle on the way to an activity.- Create a culture of sharing and learning: There needs to be frequent and regular spaces created for field staff to discuss with decision-makers their observations. These spaces, and the wider culture of the program, must emphasise critical reflection, honest sharing and continual learning if they are to be successful at communicating tacit knowledge across the program.- Document the discussions: All program decisions must be transparent. If tacit knowledge staff is to be used to help decision-makers, it is imperative that discussions between field staff and decision-makers is documented so that the rationale for any decision has a paper trail. Documenting discussions involving tacit knowledge also has other benefits. Firstly, each observation of a field staff is only a snapshot. Only by bringing together a number of similar observations over time or across several field staff can a broad picture be built. Documenting discussions enables decision-makers to consult earlier comments made by field staff to help them build up this picture. Secondly, tacit knowledge can be useful for evaluators and researchers looking at the program. Their activities are retrospective and therefore documentation of discussions will allow them to make use of tacit knowledge. Remember, documentation need not be written. It can be recorded or video-taped material.- Align the incentives of program staff: Unless the incentives are aligned to harness tacit knowledge, no system or set of process will make up for this. Field staff must see critical reflection and honest sharing as necessary for their own professional performance. Similarly, decision-makers must see feel that listening and making use of this information passed onto them by field staff will genuinely contribute to better decision-making, otherwise they will not invest the in kind resources necessary to make the system effective.- Regularly revisit the logic and of the program and the prioritisation of areas of focus: Since the context (market system) is prone to change, and the program may adjust its approach during implementation, the program’s logic may also change. It is therefore important to bring the program staff together to discuss this logic not only at the beginning of the program, but at regular occasions throughout the project. Changes in the logic will also imply changes to what signals are most
  • 10. important for field staff to look out for. The prioritisation of signals shouldtherefore also be revisited regularly.