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The IDRC Grant that Keeps Giving- Thanks to the Power of Networks

Deyata Kirula or the Crown of the Nation is an annual exhibition which showcases achievements of the government of Sri Lanka.  For the second year in a row the Ministry of Skills Development is showcasing the skill standard for solid waste operations assistant.   In 2012, Deyata Kirula was held in Anuradhapura in the North Central Province where 170+ solid waste workers representing the 26 local authorities in the province were awarded for solid waste operations assistant National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level 2 certificates. For 2013, the exhibition is to be held in Ampara in the Eastern Province and the Tertiary and Vocation Education Commission is busy facilitating the training of another batch of solid waste workers from the 45 local authorities in the Eastern Province.

Interestingly, the ‘knowledge to innovation in local government’ or the K2I project funded by IDRC and implemented by LIRNEasia during the 2008-2010 period has been the catalyst for the training and certification of solid waste personnel which is showcased by government.  Though all activities pertaining to the grant ended in June 2011, the self-organizing network of solid waste managers that resulted from the project has been active in taking further the concepts from the project.

As originally envisioned, the project was to connect a set of selected local authorities with stakeholders from industry, university and civil society and with each other  in a web of linkages which would serve not only as a  knowledge sharing mechanism but as a system of checks and balances for the local authorities.   As the project progressed it became evident that linkages to each other, or peer-to-peer linkages among solid waste managers in the local authorities concerned, presented the best opportunity for developing web of knowledge-based linkages. Therefore, during the second and third years of the project much of the resources were devoted to identifying the more sustainable linkages among solid waste managers in local authorities and identifying intrinsic motive forces, if any, that make the network continue beyond the project.

Many resources are spent on nurturing knowledge networks but more often than not these networks collapse once the funding stops. Our research was focused on identifying intrinsic reasons for professionals in local government to connect with their peers for knowledge purposes. After trying many approaches we found that the National Vocational Qualification framework which is established by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) of Sri Lanka to be a useful vehicle for bringing together professionals as teachers and/or learners. Vocational qualifications are based on skill standards, a document that captures what a worker in a particular vocation should know and can do. These skill standards need to be developed by skilled practitioners in a given vocation.  Academics can do very little in this regard. A side benefit of this system is that good practitioners get a chance to shine. In the case of managers in solid waste management in local government we found many good managers who were eager to volunteer their time to develop skill standards for vocations in their sector and actively involve themselves in helping each other to train and certify their workers.

As of today, the solid waste managers who were brought together by the IDRC-LIRNEasia project have organized themselves as an Association of Solid Waste Managers and Assessors of Sri Lanka, established a solid waste management training center at the Balangoda Urban Council as a TVEC recognized training center, worked with TVEC to develop skill standard for solid waste operations assistant at NVQ Level 2, trained and certified 300+ solid waste operations assistants, assisted the TVEC to complete the first draft of a skill standard for Solid waste Supervisor, a NVQ Level -3/4  qualification and holding discussion on further qualifications that would help solid waste management personnel advance as far as members in an appropriately chartered  professional association or pursue an academic track and receive advanced degrees. Although it will take some time before these networking and training and certification lead to better solid waste services across the system, anecdotally, the situation looks extremely promising.

The project success is due to (1) IDRC’s unique approach to development research funding and (2) LIRNEasia’s ability to exploit the power of networks.

In our experience IDRC allows researchers room to be creative, once a solid research framework has been developed with a principal researcher they trust. Dr. Veena Ravichandran who was the program officer for the K2I program was instrumental in this regard.

Since 1980s or earlier, Canada has been a pioneer in the use of knowledge networks to accelerate the growth of knowledge. Application of the concept to international development has accelerated since a study carried out for the purpose by Howard Clark in 1998.   LIRNEasia has been able to further apply knowledge networks for development through the K2I project. Dr Sujata Gamage, the principal researcher for the K2I project, has presented the work at several international conferences and a publication titled “Knowledge sharing in communities of practice: a social network analysis” is short listed for publication in the Journal of Knowledge Management. Several other networks are being tested as a prelude to further research in the area.

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