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Time to talk: The Practical Initiatives Network

Time to talk: The Practical Initiatives Network

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.

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3 thoughts on “Time to talk: The Practical Initiatives Network

  1. […] This post was originally written by Eleanor Paton and Alice Jowett for the WhyDev blog which can  be found here: http://www.whydev.org/time-to-talk-the-practical-initiatives-network/ […]

  2. This is a great initiative guys – congrats on getting it started up. Does this mean PIN will feature on the PIN website as a new and exciting initiative in itself? This could be one of those picture in a picture in a picture scenarios…

    I was wondering why you thought something like this doesn’t exist already? It is such a great, common sense idea. Do you think there has been a lack of motivation for this sort of initiative to exist, and if so why?

    What do you think are the major barriers to getting your initiative widely used across the development sector?

    1. Thank you Weh! That’s a great idea to feature PIN on PIN – we’ll do that.

      We’d love to hear other people’s ideas about why a website like PIN doesn’t already exist, it was as much a surprise to us as it is to you. It seems useful for organisations not only to share the benefit of their experience, but also to raise awareness of the work they do. In the same vein, we’d also love to hear if anyone knows of a website like PIN that does exist so we can at least share a link to their work, and at best work with them to avoid the very duplication PIN hopes to help others avoid!

      The main barrier to adoption we’re acutely aware of is getting the word out there about PIN, and we could use all the help we can get on that. Our hope is that there will be some kind of initiative ‘tipping point’ where once a certain number of initiatives are on PIN, the word will spread and more organisations will add theirs. We are, however, also aware it will take a good number of early adopters to make that happen. So, if anyone knows of a development initiative and would like to see it shared, regardless of its size, reach or location, please ask them to add it to PIN!

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