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M.6 Learning: Process and Key Elements

Learning involves the exchange of information, knowledge and views. It takes place at different levels and for different purposes such as participatory learning M.5, project-based learning and learning that informs policy and advocacy.

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action defines learning as the capacity for continuous, collective, interactive and inquisitive review by knowledgeable and trained staff. Organisations implementing WASH programmes must therefore create this capacity by establishing a learning strategy that includes HP.

Collective learning in the sector is derived from collective experience. This is an implicit basis of Sphere, where standards, indicators and key actions are derived from learning in the humanitarian WASH sector. WASH coordination mechanisms are also important contributors to the learning process at the national and global level, as are research initiatives that carry out research and learning for the humanitarian sector.

Learning processes can be difficult to establish in humanitarian contexts, particularly during the acute response phase. However, it may be possible to gain knowledge through Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3, but with additional or more focused analyses. In addition, specific Research M.7 can be undertaken to complement the monitoring and evaluation findings. The main goal is to learn what works or does not work and why. Being able to acknowledge mistakes and failures can contribute significantly to learning and building trust. For example, identifying why the affected population has not successfully adopted handwashing with soap at critical times is essential learning with which to adapt the HP programme. The assumption however that learning is universal and can be applied in the same way in every community is a mistake, as learning must be contextualised.

Knowledge Management M.8 is a crucial element of learning and includes the documentation, centralisation, comparison, synthesis and sharing of information and guidance. There are various ways of disseminating knowledge and experience - not just through the written word but also through interaction such as personal communication, meetings, videos or workshops.

Learning within the humanitarian sector is difficult without individual learning by practitioners. Investment in continuously developing the HP capacity of WASH professionals at every level is essential. Organisations need to develop learning strategies and provide adequate resources for the learning and knowledge needs of all staff.   

Process & Good Practice

  • Plan learning strategically. Key questions to ask for each project include: 

    • What do we need to know about this area? 
    • Why is this a priority? 
    • What are we curious about and why? 
    • How will we document, share and use the evidence and information generated?  
    • What are the best approaches to use? 
    • How can we best communicate with populations to reduce WASH-related risks? 
    • How can we learn and use the knowledge generated by communities to improve our response?
  • Budget for learning as part of the planning process of an HP programme. Include both individual and organisational learning in the budget.

  • Use a Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning framework to ensure that the knowledge generated at an individual, programme and organisational level is integrated and coherent.

  • Consider and adhere to ethical standards wherever learning requires data collection.

  • Integrate learning into the capacity strengthening plan of the HP team to ensure that staff apply current sectoral learning.



To improve the quality of hygiene promotion (HP) interventions in emergencies by drawing on lessons learned from past and current HP interventions.  


  • Sharing knowledge and building on lessons learned in HP is important both within humanitarian (and development) organisations and between them.

  • The establishment of learning systems for the humanitarian WASH sector at organisational, national and international levels will help to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of HP interventions. 

  • Organisations must drive the process and provide an enabling culture for learning and knowledge sharing. Hygiene promotion managers need to make it their responsibility. 

  • Learning and knowledge-sharing require a culture of behaviour change in individuals, organisations and systems so that initiatives to improve learning, knowledge sharing and communication are given greater support and investment. Investment in good information management is required at all levels as well as its promotion. The production and dissemination of guidance and recommendations is important as well as its inclusion in inductions, handovers and training.

  • Learning is weaker if learning-focused systems for Monitoring M.2 and Evaluation M.3 have not been established.

  • Research M.7 and Knowledge Management M.8 are two important components of any learning system to ensure that learning is rigorous and shared across the sector.


Discussion paper on organisational and institutional learning

Van Brabant, K. (1997): Organisational and Institutional Learning in the Humanitarian Sector. Opening the Dialogue, ALNAP

Review of learning and knowledge sharing practices

Cranston, P., Chandak, A. (2016): Strengthening Learning and Knowledge Management: Review of WaterAid’s Approach to Knowledge Management Briefing Paper 2549. 39th WEDC International Conference, Kumasi, Ghana

Proposed methodology to improve the rigour of research methods

Dillon, N., Campbell, L. (2018): Lessons Papers: A Methods Note, ALNAP

Monitoring and evaluation principles and practical ways of applying these to hygiene during the COVID-19 response

Freeman, M., White, S. et al. (2020): Summary Report on General Principles for Monitoring and Evaluating Covid-19 Prevention Projects, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub

Majorin, F. (2020): What Tools are Available to Aid Organisations in Acting Ethically While Learning from Communities?, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub