Lessons learnt can develop out of the evaluation process as evaluators reflect on their experiences in undertaking the evaluation. Lessons can take the form of describing what should or should not be done, or describing the outcome of different processes.
"The idea is that the greater the number of supporting sources for a lesson learned, the more rigorous the supporting evidence, and the greater the triangulation of supporting sources, the more confidence one has in the significance and meaningfulness of a lesson learned. Lessons learned with only one type of supporting evidence would be considered a “lessons learned hypothesis.” Nested within and cross-referenced to lessons learned will be the actual cases from which practice wisdom and evaluation findings have been drawn. A critical principle here is to maintain the contextual frame for lessons learned, that is, to keep lessons learned grounded in their context. For ongoing learning, the trick is to follow future supposed applications of lessons learned to test their wisdom in action." (Patton & Millet, 1998)
Rick Davies' (2009) offers useful examples and analysis of Lessons Learnt:
"2. Where possible, use NGOs for community level work. The experience of using Govt in NTT and NGOs in NTB to do Desa Siaga implementation confirms the views the IMET team has previously expressed about the potential usefullness of NGOs in this role. According to GTZ, "NTT works through government structures. This slows down the process as implementation is done using local subsidies and district health offices - DHO still have problems with the accountancy. For this reason the targeted 50 villages in NTT are only partly ready to cover all aspects of the projects DS concept and will need further support in 2009." [Italics added]
This Lessons Learned statement has evidence about what happens when one approach is taken, but only an assumption about what will happen when the other approach is taken. It might have been better to say something like “Using government agencies to do community mobilisation around Desa Siaga leads to significant delays in implementation”."
Advice on USING this option
Rick Davies (2009) lists the following as criteria for good Lessons Learnt statements:
- "They are owned (by people who are ready to talk about them)
- They are based on experience (which may be positive or negative)
- They are verifiable (because the events involved are documented)
- They are useful to others (who read or hear about them)
- They make a difference (when acted upon)
- They have wide applicability (wider than recommendations)
- They are interesting, not boring (because of the above)
- But they do not have universal applicability (like physical laws or moral truths)"
Maurer (2012) suggests including the four following points as criteria for quality lessons learnt:
- "Rationale: Gives the prospective user a justification by stating how this lesson was learned. The focus is on three aspects: What happened? Why did it happen? Why is it important?
- Preconditions: They refer to the specified conditions in which the application of a lesson learned could be considered as appropriate.
- Lesson suggestion: It refers specifically to what has been learned through the experience, and therefore is appropriate to be repeated or avoided in future contexts.
- Applicable task: It describes the task to which a lesson learned could be applied. Depending on the context, a lesson learned may be applied to an activity, a decision or an organizational process."
- Lessons learned: This overview by Michael Quinn Patton and Ricardo A. Millett provides a definition and discussion of how lessons learned can be derived and from what sources.
Identifiying and documenting “Lessons Learned”: A list of references: Monitoring and Evaluation NEWS has compiled a list of Lessons Learnt resources. It includes general resources, as well as documents covering the identification and documenting of Lessons Learnt.
- Lessons Learned: This guide from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides and overview and examples of best practice and activities for using lessons learned.
Expectations about identifying and documenting “Lessons Learned”: This guide by Rick Davies offers advice on identifying and writing effective Lessons Learnt. It gives a number of examples and discusses their strong and weak points.
What is a Lesson Learnt???: A short one-page guide on identifying Lessons Learnt and best practices, which also offers tips on formulating Lessons Learnt paragraphs.
UNICEF: Innovations, Lessons Learned and Good Practices: This page on UNICEF's website brings together a range of Lessons Learnt, best practices and innovations that have emerged from UNICEF's programs and evaluations over the past five years.
Davies, R. (2009). Expectations about identifying and documenting “Lessons Learned”. Retrieved from: http://mande.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Guidance-on-identifying-and-documenting-LL-vs21.pdf
Maurer, R. (2012). 'Lessons Learned: Utilizing lessons learned from project evaluations in policy decision making.' i-eval THINK Piece (No. 1). Retrieved from: http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_mas/---eval/documents/publication/wcms_180328.pdf
Catholic Relief Services (n.d.). What is a lesson learnt???. Retrieved from: http://mande.co.uk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/what-is-a-lesson-learnt.doc
Patton, M. Q. and Millett, R. A., (1998). Lessons Learned, The evaluation exchange, Volume IV, Number 3 & 4. Retrieved from: http://www.hfrp.org/evaluation/the-evaluation-exchange/issue-archive/learning-organizations/lessons-learned