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Innovation in Humanitarian Expert Deployment, Networking and Peer Knowledge Sharing

Inspired by the newly launched EUAV programme, I would like to contribute to the Innovation in Aid discussion by sharing an example of our approach to innovation at the Norwegian Refugee Council’s (NRC) Expert Deployment /NORCAP department (NORCAP), where we apply the Kolb Learning Cycle of thinking, doing, experiencing and reflecting.

At NORCAP we operate a series of specialised rosters, yearly sourcing about 600 international humanitarian experts to UN agencies, regional organisations, national governments and INGOs.

An active roster can be considered a networked organisation, where staff are situated in remote geographic locations, without the opportunity to swop experience at the water cooler.

NORCAP Deployment MapNORCAP Deployment Map

At the same time individual experts harvest significant knowledge and experience as they work with e.g. Child Protection a series of different organisational and geographical contexts. Our assumption is that active expert rosters are ideal for systematic knowledge capturing and sharing in an “expert sphere” for common benefit. But how is this best done?

In early 2014 we undertook a pilot peer knowledge sharing initiative for our DRR/M experts, in which we asked them to share a 2- pager outlining the key knowledge they used, captured or created in their last deployment. The limited text length was based on the observations that tacit knowledge, once externalised and written down, often becomes simple information, and a lot of long reports are never read nor their information applied.

The initiative was enthusiastically received, but also disclosed the weakness of requiring considerable facilitation and handholding, which NRC was not able to provide for the entire expert roster force.

In Oslo we reflected and learned, and are currently undertaking a nimbler and more technical Networking Initiative for all our deployees based on an Open Knowledge approach. We have opened the deployment records in our Deployment & Roster Management System, the NORCAP Database, and given roster members access to recent deployment and deployee data in a simple format. Roster members are subsequently actively encouraged to contact and help each other with the many challenges and questions facing international humanitarian experts.

This initiative started late 2014, and we are currently observing the many ways this networking opportunity is being applied. We hope that the networking function will crystallise into more formal networks and communities of learning, which can further promote the collection and sharing of peer knowledge, and enhance the deployment experience for deployees and receiving organisations alike, - but this will be for the next learning cycle.

Our main learning point so far is that creativity, innovation and knowledge creation is not a one off activity but a continuous process of thinking, doing, experiencing and reflecting cycles.

Comments

Such a complex job to capture the roving expertise that characterises much of the humanitarian people knowledge.  We are looking forward to hearing lessons on how you facilitate this knowledge-transfer in operational practice through the impressive expertise of NORCAP rosters.

On "thinking, doing, experiencing and reflecting" - the predominant mode in the "business" of emergencies seems to be doing, and the rush to do what we think is needed in sudden-onset situations.  When we do reflect collectively, it is often disconnected to the next phase of doing.

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Peter Schioler
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12 February 2015

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