Skip to main content
Community Contribution

USAID/Jamaica Makes Progress in Education Through Learning

Sep 11, 2013
In 2010, USAID/Jamaica launched the Jamaica Partners for Educational Progress, a country-level Community of Practice (CoP) that connects education stakeholders to share knowledge and experiences, access support, discuss timely and critical issues, contribute to policy development, and collectively help advance the field of basic education.  As the USAID/Jamaica initiative was funded through the Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development (KDMD) project, DC-based project staff and a local facilitation team worked together to support the CoP. In August 2012, efforts were underway to transfer the CoP management to the School of Education at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, which USAID/Jamaica had identified as a partner to ensure the CoP’s long-term sustainability. As a result of the CoP’s success, it was expanded to become a regional initiative, providing opportunities for countries throughout the Caribbean to share ideas and experiences about education in the region.  Pull quote from jennifer dahnkeKDMD Chief of Party Jennifer Dahnke, who supported the transition of the Jamaican CoP, was very excited about the Learning Improvement Projects, since access to “seed money that can spark innovation [is] not something you find that often,” she noted. “Most contracts don’t have that flexibility. You can’t change course, you can’t try something new and see if it works.”  At the same time, “people have a lot of ideas and a lot of things that they want to do.” The Learning Improvement Projects offered an opportunity to do just that—to try something new, examine lessons learned, and explore how they could be applied to the Agency’s work.  Documenting best practices through digital storytelling Dahnke believed that lessons from the Jamaica CoP’s development, implementation, and transition could serve as a model for planning, sustainability, information sharing, and relationship to inform the wider USAID community. In order to support and capture this story, Dahnke proposed:  
  • A technology upgrade support to make the current online space compatible with the UWI system
  • Support for an in-person learning/transition event with high-level engagement of USAID/Jamaica staff, UWI partners, the Jamaica Ministry of Education and other local policymakers, and representative education stakeholders
  • On-site capture of event activities through video and photography
  • Interviews with key CoP stakeholders
  • Development of a digital story (learn more about digital stories)
  • Documentation of the project’s history and lessons learned
In regard to the project’s application to the learning cycle, Dahnke emphasized the importance of knowledge organization, and thinking through how to piece the story together and tell it effectively. Once the story was compiled, knowledge sharing was critical, “making sure people have access, find it easily and understand what it is.” Ultimately, Dahnke said the project’s impact will be in knowledge use and “how [development practitioners] can use this story to inform their own practice and whether they’re inspired to do something similar, or just have an example of how it can work.”   Sustainability and potential for replication across USAID Dahnke believes the digital story tool can be “easily replicated” and scaled up within the Agency, but cautions that they should be employed strategically so as not to be overused.  The biggest challenge for Dahnke was developing the right questions and maintaining sufficient flexibility as the story unfolded. “You need to know what your goals are, and then think about the questions that drive toward that goal,” Dahnke explained. But even when “you have an idea of what you think that story is going to be, once you talk to people, you really get the tangible aspects that help drive the storytelling process a little more concretely…[you need] flexibility to design something that’s responsive both to your goal and the way the story can best be told.”  For Dahnke, having the support of the USAID knowledge sharing community of practice, called the “SILK community” (Sharing Insights, Learning, and Knowledge), was especially important during this process: “I think it is helpful to have a committee of people who are interested in pursuing this work within the Agency as champions,” she said. Drawing on her prior professional experiences, Dahnke said she “see[s] the value of having a diverse array of stakeholders who help make decisions on what gets funded and where values lie, and help articulate goals.”  In the end, Dahnke was satisfied not only with the learning product itself, but also with the process she and her colleagues went through to craft the digital story. “We learned a lot from that process, and that’s part of the concept—to explore where there might be possibilities. Maybe things aren’t going to work, but then at least you know.”   What is a Learning Improvement Project? The objective of the Learning Improvement Projects is to catalyze Agency learning by sharing lessons learned from innovative pilot projects with the hope that promising approaches can be replicated and scaled up by others for greater impact. Each project must address all components of the learning cycle (create, organize, share, and use) as a way to ensure that the learning generated will not remain with a few individuals but effectively shared out to and utilized by a broader audience. The USAID-funded Knowledge-Driven Microenterprise Development (KDMD) project will provide customized support to all projects.