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The Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks

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Claire Héber-Suffrin , published the 16 March 2011.


The first Network was born in Orly in 1971. It came out of a common willingness from approximately 40 people (among whom pupils, former pupils, parents, teachers, council libraries, association members, social workers, shopkeepers, neighbors, friends…) all gathered around the project of Claire and Marc HEBER-SUFFRIN. In 1979, the Evry network was created, from which the Reciprocal Knowledge Exchange Networks have grown since 1985, in France and in other countries, in cities, neighborhoods, towns, schools, teachers training centers and firms.


Everyone carries an important lot of knowledge and of ignorance. Everyone can ask for or supply knowledge. Everyone can therefore learn, teach, transmit and share their knowledge (or learn how to do so).


In a town, John teaches how to have a conversation in German to Martine, Yann teaches chemistry to Mathilde and Raphaël, Martine shares her skills in dog training to Juliette and Benoît who teaches the violin to Eric (19) who teaches English to 12 people, children, teenagers and adults who had requested it or who had been asked for the teaching. Among them is Brana (35) who teaches swimming to 3 other people among whom is Dominique who will teach the banjo to Marie-Ange (20) and Hélène (45). Marie-Ange will teach writing techniques to 10 people who will… and Hélène will teach ICT to 5 people among whom Céline who supplies Spanish language to 6 among whom Marie-Thérèse who supplies French (reading and writing) to Boubaka (19) who will teach how to play African music instruments out of second-hand objects to children, one of whom teaches maths to a child of her age and Jacques who supplies his knowledge about European Philosophers to Hafida who teaches literary Arabic to Dora who will share her knowledge about Mauritius Island to …

In a school: Ugo, Grégoire, Héolïse, Hacen and Eric learn Russian from Mathieu who learns ICT from Joseph and Alice. The latter has just started Basketball courses with Marie, Hafida and Selma. The first two had asked Eddy for some help in Maths and the third one had asked Ambroise and Marie-Ange for an initiation into Chess. As for Joseph, he is learning how to play the guitar from Ugo…

The way it works

Cooperative situations are set up so that everyone can, through their own personality, spot their branches of knowledge, name them, describe them and say eventually how they learnt them. Everyone should speak out their needs and their wishes to learn. Everyone does this for themselves with an organized reciprocal speech and will then become aware of how much they know compared to others.

A team of volunteer workers enhances the supplies and demands making them conspicuous on a large white board so that everybody can have access to them.

All the people involved must be matched. A third party makes it sure that there is reciprocal communication and the people involved start to set up the conditions of the exchange: content, methods, evaluation, frequency, duration and place. It is a period of negotiation during which people get to know one another, build bridges and talk about the ways to transmit the knowledge. It also gives some time for everyone before the first exchange to think over their own teaching methods considering the personality of the student.

Exchanges about the exchanges allow everyone to know more about what they actually know: we saw nursery school pupils who were able to analyze how another pupil had taught them and how then in turn did it to teach and learn.

The foundation

The knowledge

Everyone is entitled to get knowledge. The diversity of knowledge is recognized as a blessing. We want heterogeneity to be a blessing too. We would like to make different people feel closer, those who teach or learn Cooking, Philosophy, Science, Mechanic, Painting, Classical music or how to use Public Transport. It is an answer to the following question : “How to make knowledge accessible ?”.

There is no hierarchy among the branches of knowledge, what counts is where they come from, from which culture, how they were built, which branch of knowledge. Which stages they went through, all the different relationships they gave birth to, the various personal behaviors they involved, the needs and requirements which came out of them or which they induced. The networks are organized to fight against the deskilling of knowledge to the benefit of other. They aim at making the “reciprocal exchange” something essential to knowledge. Knowledge is of great value because it contributed to the creation of your self by yourself but also to your own humanization and to others. What value has it got if it leads to humiliation or exclusion?

Knowledge is commonly considered as a process which is never fully completed. It is rather a verb of action, to “know”. Knowledge is alive. If it moves it is transformed and transforms people and relationships who in turn transform it.

Each branch of knowledge is composed of other branches of knowledge linked to other branches of knowledge.

The wants are a blessing. When you become aware of your ignorance, you get double information : to yourself, the fact that you can try to learn, to others, the fact that you need them to learn. The knowledge is shared to emancipate the humans and link them together allowing them to positively contribute to common good.

Training reciprocity

  • Reciprocity of gifts

To give and to receive are a right to everyone. The happiness to give, the pleasure to be given something, to be expected for what we know and can deliver. The right to receive is clearly not an excuse for assistance (to the needs, misery, isolation…) but is greatly linked t the right to give.

  • Equal reciprocity

Reciprocal training is the living proof of equality, or equality striving. In a democracy a human equals a vote. How can we possibly accept that some should have no vote ? We do not realize that our democracy is weakened when we deprived it from its talents, its potential skills, questions, points of view and experience.

We can hear what others tell us only if they are equal to us. Knowledge speaks the truth. The one who teaches me knows more than I do about this particular branch of knowledge but it is essential that (s)he should consider me as equal in humanity and in learning potential. Only then will I make his/her knowledge mine. I will be able to build the knowledge in my mind and confront it to my questions and my own knowledge. The following statement: “All skillful and ignorant, all suppliers and demanders, all teachers and learners” allows to establish equality from diversity which is recognized as a structuring value and that everyone will accept since it is on an equality basis.

  • An educational reciprocity

What do the teachers do when they want to teach someone? They learn at several stages:

- When they think about how they learnt, when they explore their own knowledge. They become aware of what they know, remembering forgotten things, they think of new links they were not making until then, they may even realize their own weaknesses. They revise, reorganize their knowledge and make it clearer.

- When in the presence of the demanders they reformulate their knowledge, they explain, tell and help the learning process. Once again they revise, remember and make what they learnt clear and give it more value.

- When finally they answer the learner’s questions. These questions may be obvious to them but them can also puzzle them, point out their own ignorance and make them find new knowledge. The discovery can motivate them into learning to get even more knowledge or to answer the learner’s questions.

What happens to the supplier ? The learning process always comes from a wish to answer a question! You must therefore ask yourself questions in order to learn. Learning means attempting to answer these questions. This is one of the problems School comes across. It gives answers to students who have not asked themselves the questions.

The demanders of knowledge look for knowledge. They desire to learn, they strive to find out what they know about what they want to learn. They ask the suppliers the questions they ask themselves. This is how they make them improve.

  • A reciprocity in the roles

What roles are we talking about? That of teaching and that of learning. To experience these two roles allows you to understand each of them better. Being a student helps me consider the ways of teaching. On condition that I should play both roles and let them be intertwined in my thinking.

  • A cooperative reciprocity

One the interesting aspects of these networks is that everyone is welcome to build them up, open them and animate them. The suppliers and demanders build their teaching techniques : every can contribute to the system that trains them.

  • Being aware of the reciprocity

Lastly, reciprocity exists only if everyone is aware that they are in reciprocal relation. If one of the partners in the exchange does not feel equal to the other, the reciprocity is not fully achieved.

All this is organized in open networks.

Or yet, the exchanges create a system that changes with the wind: someone teaches someone else, another one will teach 3 others, another one will teach a group of 12, 2 others will teach one person how to read…

The supplies and demands and the solutions given give birth to an open network. It could be talked of a social pattern to education all lifelong. The network offers multiple branches of knowledge which allow extremely diverse and open individual learning processes.

A development

Since they were created, these Networks have involved hundreds of thousands of people of all ages. One network can involve 50 people, 400 or more…

If you wish to create such a Network, an association named FORESCO: Reciprocal Training, Knowledge Exchange and Group Creation can bring you some help

- technical help and some tools to start

- training

- links to existing Networks

Join us at

Other sites for more information

- Evry :

- Nantes : http://echangesavoirsnantes.over-bl...

- Gradignan :

- Mulhouse :

In the same section

» Changing Education Paradigm
» Generation Mediation
» From mistrust to collaboration: Using Transformational Social Therapy to Support Participation in School-Community Educational Reform in a French Banlieue

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