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28 April 2017
The role of experiential learning during a DRUSSA Fellowship Programme Print
Monday, 08 August 2016 09:31

As part of the DRUSSA Fellowship Programme Professor John Munene from Makerere University worked with the Ugandan Ministry of Education, Science and Sports (MoESTS) to strengthen/enhance the use of research evidence to inform its policy formulation, implementation and evaluation mandate.  He explains the role of experiential learning in building government capacity to use evidence.

The broad objective of the Fellowship was the use of evidence within the on-going policy process and ultimately strengthening evidence-use capacity within the Department. The objective assumed that the Ministry was already actively engaged in a review of education policy and my role would be to facilitate the use of academic or rigorously assembled data to guide the review to address quality considerations in education service delivery in Uganda. 

 

Context: Education Policy in Uganda

Despite the increasing evidence in Uganda that the universal education policy and its implementation is failing to deliver on the second millennium goal of providing quality basic education to all, stakeholders seem unable to find remedies to stem the downward spiral of deteriorating education outcomes, with special reference to learning outcomes. Having done extensive research in the area of Universal Primary Education (UPE) and having published my research in book format, my support to the Department focussed on this area of policy.

" this short exercise brought home  that I would not be able to get results in at least half of the above areas unless I prioritised or redefined the opportunity by answering a question:  “what activities Ministry delegates/ trainees would need to perform in order to feel confident that they can undertake evidence based policy reviews and formulation after the Fellowship”?

Theory of Change

The traditional public service context in which the DRUSSA Fellowship was embedded, the overall objective of the Fellowship, and the role of the Fellow, provided an opportunity to re-engage our emerging, individual-oriented theory of change.  The local theory of change adopts contextualised but known concepts in organisational and individual learning such as reflection, situated learning and work based competences. Following the localised theory of change, I set out to develop a concept paper focusing on a number of key performance areas (KPAs) or key results areas (KRAs) that guided the Fellowship:

  1. Build organisational capacity by working with human resources directors to design policies, which emphasize skills in using and valuing research evidence: 
  2. Work with MoESTS officials to develop practical guidelines addressing how to locate, appraise and utilise research evidence effectively:
  3. Work towards developing and aiding MoESTS to adopt approaches that embed evidence in the policy making process
  4. Quality assure DRUSSA project activities relating to the development of evidence-based policy within MoESTS
  5. Undertake literature searches, including production of policy reports, policy briefs, and other MoESTS related publications on quality of education and service delivery
  6. Provide in-house technical support to MoESTS staff in processes that entail the identification, analysis and communication of research evidence for policy and planning purposes:
  7. Collect and synthesize research evidence to support the review of Uganda’s National Educational Policy especially in areas that address the existing quality considerations in education service delivery
  8. Facilitate the organisation of MoESTS symposia on topical issues pertaining to design and implementation of evidence based policies.  

 However this short exercise brought home an important fact namely that I would not be able to get results in at least half of the above areas unless I prioritised or redefined the opportunity by answering a question:

 “what activities Ministry delegates/ trainees would need to perform in order to feel confident that they can undertake evidence based policy reviews and formulation after the Fellowship”?

 

Taking a different approach: Experiential Learning

This question was important because it would respond to our local theory of change that is based on capacity to demonstrate work-based competencies; competencies that are defined more in terms of operations than in knowledge or attitudes - operant competences.  With the redefined opportunity or problem, I set out to implement a modified Action Learning approach based broadly on the Marquardt model that we had recently tested in an educational setting in Uganda.  Action Learning is an approach to acquiring work based competences by working on a real work problem that has consequences for one’s immediate job and task results.  I then made a presentation on the objectives of the DRUSSA Fellowship where I outlined the facilitation or coaching method I would use to execute the task at hand.  The method indicated clearly the roles of each of the parties as follows:

  1. I would request members of Basic Education to take charge of learning about evidence policy- making rather than listening to me lecturing them on how one utilises academic data to interrogate existing policy or practices on UPE.
  2. The members of the Department of Basic Education would individually and as team members extract academic and any other systematically collected data on the performance of UPE for the purpose of reviewing the current UPE policy and guidelines.
  3. The starting point of learning about recognising, extracting, interpreting and utilising academic data to review and formulate policy would be to conducti a symposium on the status of UPE as captured in a book that I had published on the subject.
  4. The Commissioner, Basic Education would appoint a team leader whose role would be to organise preparatory and reflection meetings on conducting the symposium and addressing any ongoing concern about the exercise. The team formed themselves into a working group and a group email address allowed for the development of a temporary Community of Practice.

The approach I took handed the power of learning over to the nascent community of practice, which allowed me to also become a member of the team quickly rather than the DRUSSA Fellow who is telling everyone what to do.

"the meetings provided opportunities to reflect on what to do to formulate and or review policy using systematically collected data including but not exclusive to academic data"

To continue building a community of practice the team agreed on a fortnightly meeting with the broad objective of tracking each other on the task at hand. As it turned out, the meetings provided opportunities to reflect on what to do to formulate and or review policy using systematically collected data including but not exclusive to academic data. I realised that I was beginning to find the answers for my modified question when the problem owner , the Commissioner,  remarked:  “As a result of your coming we are realising more and more that we have “mouth” policies. We have little statistics to back these policies that emerge from policy statements.  The science policy for instance assumes that there are data. No science teacher numbers are known, no numbers were anticipated.”

The fellowship proceeded in two phases: a case study and an informal survey of existing policy relevant data. In both phases reflection on one’s job and how it is tacitly embedded in continuous policy review, delivered the competences I wanted to leave behind as the testimonies below suggest.

"It is a timely intervention. A lot has been going on failing the implementation of UPE and discussions at various levels held without referring to existing data. Using available data to solve issues affecting UPE implementation is very good"

"(I have) Learnt how to extract academic data to generate policy direction; Learnt how to Use research findings/monitoring reports findings to write policies"

"The symposium is timely as it handles the management of UPE in Uganda since its inception in 1997. I have learnt about the social cognitive factors that had hither to not been emphasised yet they are very crucial. I have learnt about the use of data and how critical this is in coming up with relevant and successful policies that will positively enhance the education sector. I have also learnt about incorporating the emerging issues for the future policy making"

If I am happy about what the Fellowship has managed to deliver within the time, it is because I utilised my own theory of change, tested its applicability hypothetically by writing a concept paper and critiquing it before implementing it and finally reformulated the problem. Then I managed to become an insider by creating a community of practice and surrendering the power of the Fellow to the actual owner of the learning that the Fellow is supposed to impart. 

You can read more about Prof Munene's experience here


Prof John C Munene is the PhD Programme Director at Makerere University Business School

 

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