Thursday, November 10, 2005

Practical example: per diem and learning

(cartoon text: salaries, options, car, pension, I think we have a deal! .....One more thing: on my first workday I want to be dropped by a helicopter on the parking lot)

I started working at IICD, the International Institute for Communication and Development as Knowledge Sharing Officer (I had always wanted to be an officer :)). I'm very happy having colleagues again, and such an international team as well. During lunchtime, the hard topic of payment of per diem or daily subsistence allowance came up. It is customary practice in most development trainings, conferences and workshops to pay participants a per diem. It's such an engrained practice that it's hard to go around it. And it an important additional to their incomes for participants. In one event, participants from the south came to Europe and were given a per diem under the assumption that it would enable them to socialize and have dinner with fellow participants. But they ended up eating take-away food in their rooms to save the money.

It's a practice which influences learning processes negatively because people may participate for the per diem rather than the topic. And within organisations the question of who participates in a learning event becomes politicised, because it is not only about learning, but also about additional income. It makes it much harder to get people to take their own personal learning processes in hand and become active learners rather than training or workshop attendants. Whereas a Community of Practice thrives on a personal connection with the domain of the community and passion for this topic.

By the way, I noticed the same difference in a training for which I paid for myself and others had it paid for by their employers. I was more fanatic in getting everything out of it. Sometimes lunch conversations touch upon the core of all issues, more easily than formal meetings....


Nancy White said...

In reading and reflecting, I think this post as a lot connected to your most recent post on Web2.0 and free tools.

Perceptions and realities around "costs" (of all kinds) are key bits of community life. In some of the NGO communities I work with, this idea of "time famine" has become so central, it affects every decision... and sometimes not in a productive way. The mythologies we build around cost can be very powerful in many directions.

Bill Williams said...

Glad you brought this up - the per diem (and even the coffee break money) which we may not even notice here in Europe can be very important for people on low salaries and/or have salaries months in arrears.

In countries where political instability and poverty are most pronounced, organising or participating in training courses and even running an NGO can be among the rare opportunities available for entrepreneurial activity. I suspect this is part of the explanation for what at times appears to me to be a very low ratio between the number of hours devoted to training courses and the results in terms of acquired competences and practical outcomes.

I’m not altogether sure how one begins to tackle this issue but recognising it is certainly a first step.

Bill Williams said...

Continuing from my previous comment, I have just been reading a paper by by Kaye Schofoeld where she mentions that even quite small southern countries can be recipients of surprising numbers of education projects:

"OECD/DAC figures show an extraordinary proliferation of projects in education between
1997 and 2003. Although the figures are inflated by small French projects, there have
been no less than 109 education sector projects in this period in Vanuatu, 70 in Samoa, 50 in Tonga, and 46 in Kiribati. The burden donors place on Pacific countries is excessive."

The Magic Umu? Open and distance learning in three Pacific
Island Countries - Kaye Schofield