RE: How to define and identify lessons learned? | Eval Forward

Hi all,

It's been useful to read all your comments - thank you.

In ALNAP, we’ve been producing ‘Lessons Papers’ for many years as a synthesis of the findings are recommendations from multiple evaluations and studies conducted by different agencies that focus upon addressing different disaster types (or in some cases a specific disaster). We don’t phrase these so much as lessons ‘learned’ but about lessons that should be learned by the broader humanitarian system based on the learning emerging from different agencies that could help to improve in future responses. The Lessons are typically predominantly focused on actions for operational staff but also include lessons for policymakers and staff involved in strategy to provide the supportive structure to carry out necessary changes.

The papers have evolved over time in their substance but also in their methods. In the most recent papers we draw on a literature review of findings and recommendations from evaluations and written studies but also pair these with a review by a board of experts that we intentionally try to draw from different locations and to represent a diversity of different experiences to comment on how relevant the Lessons are and to help make them more useful in practice. In developing the initial Lessons from the literature, the authors assess their frequency (in the findings and recommendations of existing documents) and the quality of the original research to determine which are more reliable but then check their relevance with the reference group to help ensure they’re useful for the broader sector.

We try to assess the methodology periodically to improve it, with one challenge being a balance between rigour and practicality. We’re also increasingly thinking about how to provide lessons for crises that are likely to be more frequent and rapidly evolving in the future when the traditional lessons paper method focuses on the past. In case of interest, you can see more about the methodology from our latest paper focused on climate-related disasters here where we had to consider some of those challenges:

In their framing, we try to make each Lesson as specific and actionable as possible (while keeping in mind the need to adapt to contextual factors!) to help people put them into practice. The level of detail, however, does rely on the underlying information and specificity in the original evaluations and studies or what the expert group offer in terms of their experiences. We recently conducted a review of all the lessons paper ALNAP had produced over the years and could see a difference in thematic areas where the sector had more specific recommendations and where the Lessons were vaguer, depending on the information and available to be synthesised. The reflection paper is here if people are interested: There’s also a shorter summary article:

Many thanks,