Dialogue for Sustainability: Implementing the Continuing Professional Development Policy for Nigeria’s Medical Laboratory Scientists
I was happy to see Fast Company’s January issue dedicated to the art of dialogue. It was relevant for me as I returned from providing assistance in implementing the K4Health/Nigeria Web-Based Continuing Professional Development (CPD) project for medical laboratory scientists in Abuja, Nigeria.
The issue explored the ways in which dialogue can foster progress and develop ideas. While one article focused on communicating virtually by Skype, editor Robert Safian wrote of the importance of face-to-face dialogue:
There is simply no better way to test your assumptions than in conversation with a peer--no better way to learn, to experiment, to be prodded.
While a major deliverable of our project is eLearning courses accredited for CPD credits which leverage online technology for disseminating information, it’s the face-to-face meetings that make the implementation and management of this technology and the online courses possible.
In-person meetings with the Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) and the Medical Laboratory Science Council of Nigeria (MLSCN) focused on lessons learned in the project’s first year: gaps in operational guidance, bottlenecks in the accreditation process, and mechanisms for solving future issues. This cycle of planning, implementation, and reflection closely mirror the continuous quality improvement cycle of Plan, Do, Study, and Act.
These face-to-face brainstorming discussions are as much about implementing the project work plan as they are about maintaining relationships and reinforcing commitment; intangibles that are very difficult to achieve virtually.
In addition to these discussions, there was a focus on the sustainability of project activities, especially important since we are in the second and final year of the project. The necessity of meaningful engagement and participation for sustainable growth is highlighted in a USAID brief from 2000:
Sustainable development mandates participation. It must be based on the aspirations and experience of ordinary people, their notion of what problems should be addressed, and their consultations with government, development agencies, and among themselves. It must involve, respond to, and be accountable to the people who will live with the results of the development effort. It must help them build institutions of free discourse and inclusive decision-making.
In acknowledgement of the need to cultivate engagement and participation beyond project implementing partners, we conducted focus group discussions with the target audience of the CPD Policy and eLearning courses with the following purpose in mind:
To solicit feedback from learners of the eLearning courses authored by AMLSN and accredited by MLSCN to see what knowledge is being applied and how to improve the courses in the future to ensure greater likelihood of use of the knowledge obtained from the courses. Specifically, it aims to determine the extent to which the target audience of the eLearning courses, Medical Laboratory Scientists (MLS), improved their knowledge, updated and sharpened their skills, and acquired new skills as a result of the knowledge obtained from the courses.
The discussions were rich with anecdotes, critiques, and suggestions for improving subsequent courses. After analyzing the discussions, common themes will be shared with project stakeholders during the next in-person visit. The presentation of results will start another round of dialogue, further improving the project and moving it closer to sustainability.
This brings me back to another article in The Art of Dialogue in which Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, references a famous Einstein quote: “information is not knowledge.”
The rest of Einstein’s quote captures the essence of our project well: “the only source of knowledge is experience.”