Oscar Jara Holliday is a Peruvian-Costa Rican Popular Educator and Sociologist. He is also the Managing Director of the Alforja Centre for Studies and Publications in Costa Rica and Coordinator of the Latin American Support Programme of Systematization of Experiences at CEAAL (Latin American Adult Education Council). He has trained and undertaken research projects across Latin American and in some European countries, and has written numerous articles on Popular Education, Methodology and Latin American Reality in both national and international magazines. He has been a member of the Academic Committee of the Paulo Freire University, UNIFREIRE, Brazil, since 2009. His main publications include: Theoretical and practical orientations for systematization of experiences, The Challenges of Popular Education, Methodology and Techniques in Popular Education.

Contacto: CEP- Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones Alforja, Apartado 369-1000 San José , Costa Rica. oscar@cepalforja.org

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In the living dynamics of the Central American social movement of the eighties, various popular educators from different Latin American countries were convened by the National Literacy Campaign and other intensive educational processes that were implemented in revolutionary Nicaragua after the popular triumph against the Somoza Dictatorship: the Popular Health Campaigns, the training of agricultural workers on the estates where agricultural reform had been applied, training in methods and techniques of popular theatre, the initiatives for the participation of women in social organisations, the proposals for Popular Basic Adult Education, etc.

In the heat of this process, we shared knowledge originating in our experiences of popular education in our respective countries: Mexico, Panama, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Peru… and this knowledge was added to a melting pot, allowing us to mould an innovative theoretical-methodological proposal, that was able to respond to the challenges of the Nicaraguan and Central American context of the time. Very soon, a year after beginning these exchanges, we decided to form the “Alforja Central American Coordinated Popular Education Programme” “Programa Coordinado Centroamericano de Educación Popular Alforja”, formally, in May 1981, in Managua. Thus, we now had a collective space for construction and we were able to face up to hitherto unknown tasks of popular education.

We were required, for example, to achieve levels of projection of educational activities that we had never tackled before: programmes of national scope, training of trainers of a whole area of a ministry, seeking “cascade” training in which an initial group was trained and each member was responsible for implementing their own training process, thereby generating a multiplying effect.

Initially, the main demand came from the area of participative techniques. We quickly saw that this did not respond to the needs, since although they helped to invigorate the educational processes, they did not guarantee ownership and multiplication of the contents. We therefore began to explore the use of methods such as working in workshops or participative research processes. These opened the way towards a more long-term dimension than the techniques and methods: the design of a methodological strategy that gave coherence to all the elements that intervene in the educational process.  This methodological proposal, known at the time as “Methodological Dialectical Conception”, was born of the exchange and critical reflection based on what we were doing and discovering along the way: first, sharing what each one brought as their contribution; second, innovating together and discovering new possibilities; third, reflecting critically on these discoveries and their theoretical, epistemological, political and pedagogical implications.

This was achieved via the compilation of the methodological designs with which we planned each educational activity or process. Then, thanks to the records that we kept of it all. Thus, after two years of conducting this research and constructing these tools, we met, in October 1982 in the “First methodology workshop of the Alforja Coordinated Programme”, which we would subsequently baptise as the “First regional workshop on Systematisation and Creativity”.

Yes, this is what we called this process of exchange and critical reflection: “Systematisation”. It seemed natural to us and we did not give it much thought at the time. But later when, in 1983 and then in 1984, we held the second and the third workshops (of a series that would reach more than fifteen), we also decided to reflect on the concept that we had been using. This gave rise to the article that serves as a reference to this text: it is a reworked summary of the main ideas that arose in this collective space around what we understood as “systematisation” and how it would differ form a traditional “evaluation”.

Looking at it now, twenty-seven years later, I discover that it contains the basic intuitions of the route we have been following in the Alforja Programme, now called “ALFORJA NETWORK”  and the Systematisation Programme of the Latin American Council for Adult Education (Consejo de Educación de Adultos de América Latina), CEAAL . The principle of all of these: to consider that there is a process of reflection and knowledge building based on practice which deserves to be known by its own name as “Systematisation”. Today, we always give it a surname: “Systematisation of Experiences”, to differentiate it from other types of systematisation (of information, of data, of knowledge…). The second of these intuitions is that it is based on compilation, registration and ordering, but it aspires to be something deeper than that: it aims to formulate a critical interpretation and to generate knowledge and learning.

We have also refined its “definition” and developed it further. For example, today we would say that “systematisation is the critical interpretation of one or more experiences that, on the basis of their ordering and reconstruction, uncovers or makes explicit the logic and sense of the process experienced in them: the different factors that intervened, how they related to each other and why they did so in that way. Systematisation of Experiences produces significant knowledge and learning that enable us to take critical ownership of the experiences lived (their knowledge and opinions), understand them theoretically and guide them towards the future with a transforming perspective”.

We have also fine-tuned and improved our view of its relationship with evaluation. We no longer think that it “is a higher level of reflection than evaluation, although it is supported by it”, we think that it is simply another exercise for the production of knowledge from practice, which must be complemented by it, each person making their particular contribution, recognising that evaluations are usually more concerned with measuring and assessing the results obtained, taking as a reference the objectives set and that the systematisation of experiences is more concerned with the process experienced, its route, continuities and ruptures. Thus, the examination of processes and the examination of results are mutually supportive and enable the obtaining of significant learning that enriches practice and helps it to improve and to be more effectively transforming.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge of these practices and reflections during these 27 years. Fortunately there are now many experiences of systematisation in many more fields than those mentioned in 1984. There are also many more people thinking and reflecting theoretically, methodologically and instrumentally on this subject than at that time.  We can find clear evidence of this in the compilation of more than one hundred texts on the Systematisation of Experiences, which currently comprise the Virtual Library of the Support Programme for the Systematisation of Experiences (Biblioteca Virtual del Programa de apoyo a la Sistematización de Experiencias) of the CEAAL, definitively the most complete space for access to materials on this subject and which is permanently incorporating new contributions. We invite you to visit it, to encourage you to delve into this exciting topic and provide the incentive for us to establish a culture of critical reflection in our institutions and personal practices, in such a way as to be able to produce significant learning for the stimulation of transforming practices: www.cepalforja.org/sistematizacion/biblio.shtml