by Eleanor Paton and Alice Jowett
Eleanor Paton has just finished volunteering for Conversations with Foreigners and the Asian International Justice Initiative in Cambodia. She has an MA Legal and Political Theory from UCL and is marketing for the Practical Initiatives Network (@PIN_Network). You can follow her at @eleanorpea and www.eleanorpaton.com.
Alice Jowett is the founder of the Practical Initiatives Network. She is a development professional and a PhD student at the University of Leeds: http://www.polis.leeds.ac.uk/research/students/jowett.php.
It can be frustrating to see organisations expend considerable time and money on initiatives that either reinvent the wheel, or make the same mistakes others have made before them.
The cost of doing so in the development sector is particularly high. Funding for initiatives is too hard to come by to be wasted, and intended positive changes are not achieved when an initiative is unsuccessful.
Capitalising on collective knowledge
Whilst a multitude of development organisations are running different initiatives to achieve similar goals, there is comparatively little general information and awareness about the details of other organisations’ initiatives. However, if the development sector is to avoid the charge of consistently ‘reinventing the wheel’ then there must be a means through which development organisations can access the knowledge that the ‘wheel’ already exists. (For further information see this journal article on scaling-up).
We believe the sector needs a platform for development organisations, regardless of their size, reach and background, to be able to share information about their initiatives and the lessons they have learned along the way.
The new Practical Initiatives Network (PIN) attempts to meet this need by acting as an evidence base for development organisations, helping avoid reinvention while opening the door to the scaling-up and replication of successful initiatives.
Sharing what didn’t work…
Lack of information on initiatives is particularly noticeable when they don’t quite achieve their original intentions. Development organisations are frequently under pressure to see this purely as a ‘failure’ and to hide their difficulties or mistakes, particularly from their donors.
Yet information on what doesn’t or hasn’t worked is often just as (if not more) valuable to the development community as what has. The ability to share knowledge and learn from each other has significant potential for development organisations and a failure to do so is at the very least disappointing!
With the precious few resources available for development organisations, wasting the resource of practitioner knowledge and experience should not be so common. As New Philanthropy Capital’s recent impact survey found, however, most charities would like to change this practice of ‘hiding failures’. More than 70% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “Charities should be encouraged to report failures or negative results.” At PIN we hope to provide a forum where these ‘failures’ can be talked about constructively and in doing so we hope to help others avoid similar pitfalls.
…and sharing what did.
Of course collective knowledge is not only about sharing ‘failures’. Sharing information about what has worked and why can be extremely valuable. This knowledge can lead to effective initiatives being scaled-up and replicated, as well as having the potential to encourage networking and partnerships, to reduce duplication and to inspire others.
Development organisations looking for more creative ways to meet their goals could learn a lot from initiatives that have gone before them. Organisations looking for new creative funding mechanisms, for example, might learn valuable lessons from Conversations with Foreigners (CWF) and the Cambodian Rural Development Team (CRDT) listed on PIN here: CWT and CRDT.
As outlined in a recent Guardian article, CWF was established in response to CRDT’s search for a more predictable and sustainable source of funding than donations. As well as providing funding for CRDT, CWF also provides low cost conversational English language classes to local students in Phnom Penh and encourages cultural exchanges with its foreign volunteer teachers.
Our hope is that PIN will become a valuable resource to the development community by acting as a searchable database of initiatives such as these. PIN encourages organisations to share their ideas and offer advice to one another in a public, searchable forum, while at the same time publicising and providing links to the work they do. We believe in this kind of dialogue and its possibilities for helping development organisations become more effective in achieving their goals.
How to get involved
PIN was founded in early 2013 by Alice Jowett who recognised the benefits of this kind of sharing but could not identify an open, free, worldwide, cross-sector platform for development organisations to share their ideas and learn from each other’s successful (and less successful) initiatives. PIN invites development organisations to add their initiatives to the site regardless of their size, reach or background and to share their ideas and experiences by commenting on other organisation’s initiatives.
As a new start-up, PIN has a lot to learn when it comes to getting a website like this off the ground. With a few crash-courses in social media behind us, we now have a Twitter account (@PIN_Network) and Facebook page (Practical Initiatives Network – PIN), which we invite anyone with an interest in development to join. Through these sites we are able to provide regular updates and information about initiatives, as well as spread the news when a new initiative is added to the website.
Central to PIN is the idea that it will continually evolve with the needs of its users, and so we invite and very much encourage feedback and suggestions for improvement. We’re also continually looking for ways to build the network and spread the word so appreciate any hints, tips or direct action to help us manage this.
PIN also has a page for useful websites so please let us know of any that people might find useful.
Most of all, if you are involved with a development initiative, or know someone who is, please make sure it is uploaded to the website and joins the PIN network! You can visit and communicate with PIN at: www.practicalinitiatives.org.