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

Posted on November 11, 2012  /  0 Comments

Deyata Kirula or “Crown of the Nation” is an annual showcase of the achievements of the Government of Sri Lanka.  For the second consecutive year, the Ministry of Skills Development is presenting the skill standard for solid waste operations assistants. In 2012, Deyata Kirula was held in Anuradhapura in the North Central Province. Over 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. In 2013, the exhibition will be held in Ampara in the Eastern Province. The Tertiary and Vocation Education Commission is 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’ (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.  All grant activities ended in June 2011. The self-organizing network that resulted continues to be active in taking concepts from the project further.

The project was originally envisioned to connect a set of selected members of local authorities, industry stakeholders, universities and civil society. This would create a web of linkages that serve as knowledge-sharing mechanism and a system of checks and balances. As the project progressed it became evident that peer-to-peer linkages among solid waste managers in the local authorities presented the best opportunity. 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 would 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 (NVQ) framework, established by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) of Sri Lanka, useful for bringing together professionals as teachers and/or learners.

Vocational qualifications are skill standards documents that capture what workers 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. We found many managers who were eager to volunteer their time to develop skill standards for vocations in their sector. They were actively involved, and helped 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. It will take some time before these certifications lead to better solid waste services across the system. But 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, once a solid research framework is developed with a trusted principal researcher, IDRC allows room for creativity. 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. A publication titled “Knowledge sharing in communities of practice: a social network analysis” is shortlisted 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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