Communities of Practice: A journey of lifelong learning through linking and learning
Thena Posysenthong, Linking, Learning, and Amplifier, Voice in Laos
Khouanfa Siriphone, Creative Director and Co-Founder, STELLA, Linking and Learning Facilitator, Voice in Laos
With inputs from:
Kayla Lapiz, Communications Officer, Voice Global
Alex Loer, Roving Monitoring & Evaluation Office – Asia, Voice Global
Inez Hackenberg, Linking & Learning Coordinator, Voice Global
On 06-07 November 2023, STELLA and the Rural Development Agency (RDA), Linking and Learning Facilitator for Voice in Laos, organised the annual Linking and Learning (L&L) event, a gathering of Voice grantee partners in Laos to co-create learning and sharing spaces. This gathering aimed at encouraging grantee partners to share amongst each other their learning journeys so far and to brainstorm together a concrete plan as they move forward as a community.
During the two-day workshop, the grantee partners got to know each other better— what their vision is, the challenges encountered and the wins along the way. The gathering’s ultimate goal was to come up with strategies that would support them to continue learning together as they continue with their advocacies.
The theme for the event is “Linking and Learning through Lifelong Learning”. Lifelong learning is a learning approach that is continuous, voluntary and self-motivated in pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. It is necessary for an individual’s employability and professional growth, and on the other hand also contributes to social inclusion, active citizenship and socio-economic development.
STELLA shares more about Lifelong Learning
Lifelong learning is a concept of self-developing through exploring possibilities and initiating new experiences. It is the belief that learning is not limited to formal education or a specific stage of life, but rather is ongoing and essential for personal and professional development. It often starts with what one is interested in, how to learn about it and how one unpacks that experience. When this process becomes habitual, one can keep trying new ideas to solve the existing problem(s). With passion and time, one would likely be able to figure out the solutions, or at the very least: progress toward the solution. This process of lifelong learning matters for organisations and individuals in today’s fast-shifting world.
The reason why lifelong learning was used as the key concept for the Voice Laos Annual L&L Event in 2023? It is because the process of lifelong learning is deeply correlated with the processes found in the concept of L&L itself— such as the Community of Practice (CoP). Grantee partners come together to exchange tools, share experiences and explore new solutions for existing problems. Then, the groups would feedback to each other on what the new solutions resulted to.
It is quite challenging at first to just talk about how helpful lifelong learning is when everyone is so engrossed in their own bubbles of challenges. The L&L Team started this off by embedding the concept through the process of CoP creation. We invited grantee partners to join small thematic groups, and gradually we encouraged them to take more vital roles within the groups. Later on, grantee-partners self-organised their sessions while we continue to support with logistics.
The space for the grantee partners during the two-day event was co-created and done via the un-conferencing or open space method. Through this, grantee partners realised the wealth of resources that they have within themselves that they can share. In addition, they were also interested in learning new things from others. When the unpacking session was done, the concept of Lifelong Learning became as concrete as it could be. Grantee partners made a meaningful connection between the importance of lifelong learning and L&L processes. In the Lao context, concept and change are often needed to be reinforced by concrete, lived experience to be practiced; a step toward the more organic CoPs in the future. We hope to see greater bonding forged and new innovations found among the grantees this upcoming 2024.
Moving forward with a Lifelong Learning mindset
Voice sees L&L as the heart and soul of the Programme and the co-creation of CoPs is one of the key elements that make L&L such. It is a shared space where people interested in or are working on similar topics, or are experiencing the same challenges, can reflect together on possible ways to explore more or create solutions. New ideas come in, and at the same time previously explored approaches can be tested in different contexts.
The Voice L&L journey began in 2016, and it hopes to leave a legacy through people continuously learning together. In short, communities practicing lifelong learning towards their collective goals. Much hard work has been done towards this hope, and Voice in Laos is very proud to share what has been growing around its Voice community. Watch below a Most Significant Change video from organisations who eventually became a part of a CoP:
This video was launched during the annual L&L event, which as mentioned hoped to grow into more CoPs. Take a look at this summary video of the three days, with STELLA and Voice in Laos explaining the theme, flow and purpose of the gathering, and with different grantee partners sharing their thoughts about the event. Apart from the videos, below are some of the reflections from grantee partners during the annual L&L event:
Tadam Phommakod, Project Assistant, TakiemgLao:
‘’I was a participant and also a facilitator who shared what I have in hands to others, in my initial thinking to participate in CoP. I thought I had to be someone with knowledge and expertise in a certain field before I could participate. In addition, having to come as a sharer made me think that it was a very challenging task for me. But after I came in, I realized that we do not need to know everything or expertise in everything. CoP means a space where we can talk and share if there are problems, we can help each other to solve them’’
Keokhounheaun Xaysomphone, Project Assistant, Xonphao:
“I used the Excel Formula to apply to our inventory because our organization is a handicraft business so I brought the products to set the code in the warehouse stock. To make it more detailed. When searching for information it will be more convenient. CoP can make me more courageous in participating in various. It also makes me learn whether how to work, live and social interact’’
We believe that along with the co-creation of CoPs, the lifelong learning approach has a huge potential to help fuel the journey towards more inclusive movement-building in Laos. As civil society organisations continue to bump into each other, the approach opens up opportunities for them to collaborate and synergise with each other in the longer term, creating a stronger community of joint advocacies.
Throughout the Voice Programme implementation, L&L evolved from an event-oriented approach of coming together to a process approach of treading together the ups and downs of various learning trajectories. Different spaces and opportunities are co-created, enabling different forms of learning, and allowing for both individual and collective learning processes to transpire. We may not spot it easily from where we stand, but these spaces are opening and being taken in all the Voice-supported countries in Asia, East Africa and West Africa. What we can only hope for is for these spaces to flourish beyond the tenets of Voice, reaching more people, planting more seeds and harvesting societal impact.