What Do We Know About Exchange for Development? (Norec, 2019)

This report by Norec does a cross-section of most external reports commissioned by Norec over the last 20 years to evaluate and refine its work models and approaches. It focuses in particular on the concept of learning organisations. It aims to summarize the success factors needed to develop institutional knowledge through the use of the NOREC participant exchange program. It is based on a desk review of NOREC source documents, especially the evaluations commissioned by NOREC since 2002, but also including user surveys and annual reports.The initial section traces the development of the review process, the issues raised and how NOREC responded. Four areas are then considered in greater depth to identify key areas of learning arising from the body of knowledge produced.

The main characteristics shared by organizations or partnerships that enable learning were found to be the development and implementation of policies, systems and processes which ensure effective planning of exchanges; matching of participants to the skills and exchange requirements; the capacity and matching of partners; and their shared values and shared commitment amongst their leadership.

In respect of partner learning, this review found differences between the experiences in Norway and in the South in respect of hosting participants. While in both situations policies, systems and processes were important, the potential for learning from exchanges in Norway is not always realized and where successful appears to be linked to how hosting takes place beyond the workplace; while South-South models were more successful, benefiting from more balanced power dynamics, directly shared values
and a focus on inter and intra organizational networks.

The NOREC model has historically recruited participants from both within and outside partner organizations. It is concluded that the level of externally recruited participants affected the potential learning of sending partners from their returning participants. Directionality also appeared to be important with South-South embracing a higher level of employee participants and using network-based partner models, but there was also evidence of high staff turnover on return which has a negative effect. Post-placement support and commitment to the program and appropriate programme models that facilitate exchange alongside partner capacity were key factors in retaining participants.

Overall, the paper concludes that there is a significant body of knowledge that has provided important learning opportunities for NOREC which the organization has positively addressed. It is recognized that while earlier reviews focused on how the exchange model operated and could be improved, later reviews have emphasized the programmatic level focusing on sectoral models and effective typologies of South-South exchanges. More recently, there has been an increasing focus on the contribution and impact of the exchange model at the different levels at which NOREC objectives are set. This has meant attention has been drawn to the potential tension in the model as to whether the focus is more on individuals, partners, or the wider community. This review suggests that embracing a ‘whole systems’ model could assist in engaging with these multi-layers simultaneously.