Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Learning from ECDPM's Pelican Initiative

Brussels, 6 June. As part of the peer to peer session on learning networks, Niels Keijzer explained the Pelican Initiative.

In 2002, several organisations took the initiative to stimulate evidence based learning for development and multistakeholder interaction. We decided to use Dgroups as the basic instrument to facilitate these exchanges.

The idea was that you get better learning when you leave the theory behind and that you create interaction between multiple stakeholders.

The group works at three levels:

  1. Learning for policy change
  2. Learning within and across organisations
  3. Learning in the setting of multi-stakeholder alliances and networks

Around 350 members, researchers, evaluators, policy makers, communication specialists, and knowledge management officers participate.

The didactic approach for the network includes:

  • One topic at the time, often accompanied by a brief case study, with a clear start and end. At the end there are summaries shared which are seenas clear and useful results of the discussion.
  • The topics change every 2 months, after the summaries are sent around.Discussions can be accompanied by announcements of events, publications,etc.
  • Two publications are produced to share the discussions with a largeraudience.


  • Encourages people to respond and share
  • Provides technical support and moderate the emails
  • Very few targeted invitations, most of the growth of the network through the existing members.

A few reflections:

  • People share, but do not always compare their experiences with others.
  • Organisational learning is a difficult issue to discuss, it seems easier to discuss the 'cuisine' rather than the conditions in your own kitchen.
  • Like with many other learning networks, being a voluntary group makes it more difficult to have precise planning and deadlines.
  • Like with workshops, much of the learning is invisible, but does happen often, for instance as people also contact each other directly and forward emails to colleagues.
  • Capitalizing on what has been learned through sending summaries of the discussion has been an important motivating factor and a clear outcome of the discussion.
  • The quality of the exchange can become an obstacle for some people, while at the same time some degree of quality in the posts is crucial for motivating others. This is a dilemma in all other mailing lists.
  • Given that each online network differs in aspects as size, purpose, diversity and culture of interactions, lessons learnt from one Dgroup maynot automatically apply to others.

Following the presentation, small groups discussed the issues, especially the question: "How can we move from dissemination to spaces for learning and change?" A few remarks and questions featured during these discussions, included:

  • Is an email discussion list still a good idea in 2007, compared to some years ago, given the amount of emails that people that people in development organisations need to deal with?
  • In informal learning networks, ensuring the commitment of members is an important issue, given that most people contribute on a voluntary basis;
  • In most online learning networks, very little attention goes into monitoring and evaluating the quality and quantity of exchanges, and whether these exchanges lead to learning at an organisational level.

Story by Niels Keijzer, ECDPM

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