How to coach partners to better reporting – at a distance?

Social distance

Lockdown. Your country visit is cancelled. No-one knows when it will be safe and possible to reschedule. Yet you are still obliged to submit an annual report. Ideally one that demonstrates tangible progress towards outcomes rather than long lists of activities completed. How to deliver when you can’t travel and ‘see for yourself’.

This document provides a miniguide in 5 steps on how you can coach your partner to better reporting – at a distance.

Step # 1 – identify outcomes that you think it might be worth looking for

Project documents we receive do not always articulate expected outcomes clearly. Expected outcomes may be hidden in vague expressions such as ‘women workers empowered to speak up against cases of gender-based violence’ or ‘Strengthen existing networks of grassroot worker organizations in Asia’   This makes the reports difficult to read and often leaves us with a feeling of ‘so what’ when we have turned the last page.

Yet vague expressions and fluffy vocabulary can often be broken down into more tangible expressions about changes in beneficiaries’ behavior, relations, practices and – if the target is an institution: policies.

Before you start reading the project report, take a look at the project document and identify outcomes that it would be likely that the intervention has produced, if implemented well.

Table one below illustrates how articulated outcomes in a project design on ‘women workers’ empowerment’ and ‘strengthened networks’ can be broken down into more tangible, observable outcomes related to behavior, relations, practices or policies.

OutcomeWomen workers’s empowermentStrengthened networks
BehaviorWomen workers speak out and seek help if they are subject to gender-based violence at workNetwork member organisations operate and prioritize their work according to a joint plan
RelationWomen subject to gender-based violence at work break out of their self-isolation and seek support in the trade unionNetwork members speak regularly and refer to each other for help and support
PracticesTrade unions document cases of gender-based violenceNetwork meetings are conducted regularly using Zoom to allow all members to participate
PoliciesAgreements between employers and employees include affirmative actions prevent gender based violence at workThe network has adopted bylaws that stresses joint decision making, transparency and accountability in the way the network is managed and decisions are made

Step # 2 – Work with what you have

Many progress or end of project reports include descriptions of completed activities but less or little reflection on tangible ‘outcomes’.  Yet it is actually possible to look for ‘hidden’ outcomes in the text and between the lines. This is especially so if you know what you are looking for after having completed step 1.

You can start by searching for words like ‘Effect’, ‘Impact’, ‘Product’, ‘Result’ or ‘Consequence’ in the progress or end of project report.

Step # 3 Write outcome statements in an Outcome Table/work chart

Outcome (specify when did who do what and where)Significance of outcome
(specify why the outcome is important to reach the program’s objective)
Project’s contribution to the outcome
(describe how and when your intervention influenced the outcome. What did you do?)
1. Write here
2. And here
3. And here

Write each outcome you find in the text in an outcome table (first column). And add the source (page in report).

Write in an active voice with the protagonist as the subject of the sentence. Make sure each sentence has a subject (the protagonist – the person how changed), a verb (explaining the nature of the change) and a subject (who or what the change effected. This enables you – and the reader – to easily understand who changed and how, and it reduces the risk of long and complicated sentences that are difficult to understand

Active voice: In July – December 2019 women subject to gender-based violence at work approach and seek support in their trade union

Passive voice: In July – December 2019 women workers subject to gender-based violence were informed about their rights by the trade union.

Step #4 Engage with partners (online)

Once you have identified as many potential outcomes as you can using the written materials you have, engage your partner. Engaging with partners means that you will share the table with them and engage them in a conversation about the nature of the outcomes, their significant and how the project contributed.

This can be done in writing. But personally, we find it more effective and interesting to engage in a conversation over skype or a similar, online communication tool. This is particularly so in a Covid 19 situation where everyone is locked up in his or her own premise with limited social contact. This is actually also a situation where people may have more time to speak without being in a rush.

The online conversation further has the advantage of you being able to explain the methodology (focus on outcomes) and demonstrate – through questions – how it works in practice.

Your role:  Your role in the conversation is that of a facilitator and coach. It is your job to guide your informant through a reflection process with the ultimate goal to reach to the formulation of outcomes that are specific and measurable and provides a clear understanding of what has changed for whom. The information you have been able to extract from the reports (step 2) may have taken you part of the way, but you might still need more information.

When you engage with partners, emphasize that you have exhausted the information that you can gather by yourself through the reports and now require their assistance. Equally important, stress that you want to work with your partner as a co-learner and provide support in better clarifying and formulating their achievements.

This role requires that you adopt an approach of appreciative inquiry: That is, you ask open questions (when where, what, who how)  that stimulates reflection during the conversation and explores the meaning of the draft outcome statements you have identified reading the reports.

  • Outcomes

    Demonstrated changes in individuals’ groups’ or institutions’ behavior, activities actions, policies or practices that the intervention has contributed to and influenced through its activities and outputs.
    Outcome (specify when did who do what and where)

  • Outputs

    Processes, goods or services produced by the intervention’s service delivery, capacity building and advocacy.
    This may include changes in people’s knowledge and perceptions which have not yet materialized into changes in behavior.

During the conversation you can be ‘soft’ on content but hard on the methodology: The methodology should lead to outcome formulations that are truly outcomes that enables you and other readers to understand who, how, where and when the intervention contributed to desired changes. You can therefore insist on asking questions that help clarify these issues.

On the other hand, you must be open and listen to the details and explanations from your conversation partner when he or she shares information regarding the who, how, where and when. Be cautious not to dismiss information that your partner thinks is important to fully answer the ‘who, how, when and where. It is their intervention, so their reality counts.

Remember to ask for unexpected and negative outcomes. These may not appear from the report, but are important to consider for the sake of learning.

If managed well, then the conversation will have:

  • Strengthened your conversation partner’s understanding about how to formulate an outcome.
  • Enlightened you on the outcomes that the intervention has produced.
  • Resulted in a completed template as outlined below.
Outcome (specify when did who do what and where)Significance of outcome
(specify why the outcome is important to reach the program’s objective, rank according to high, middle, low)
Project’s contribution to the outcome
(describe how and when your intervention influenced the outcome. What did you do?)
1. 250 Women subject to gender-based violence at work break out of their self-isolation and seek support in their local factory trade union1. This is important because recognizing that GBV is a violation and seeking support is a first step for women to confront perpetrators, seek justice for themselves and take affirmative action to prevent GBV at their place of workOur project contributed to this through a serioes of workshops for women leaders. The leaders were taught how to recognize cases of GBV and how to share their knowledge with other women. Likewise, they were told where and how to seek support. The trust that was built with the women was instrumental in their willingness to take action.

Step 5 # Assess the need for more information and summarize in a narrative

Once you have completed the table, assess if there is a need to include more sources to verify of fully understand the outcomes, their significance and how the intervention contributed. Sources could for instance be field staff who have worked directly with the target groups and who have first-hand knowledge about the outcomes that the project has created.

While the Covid19 situation makes focus groups significantly more difficult, you might still do be able to conduct key informant interviews using skype or what’s app with individual resource persons, if you deem it necessary for your reporting.

If not, go directly to the next step and assist you partner summarize the findings in the table in a narrative. You can for instance assist in:

  • Clustering the outcomes according to types (behaviour change, policy changes) or according to different stakeholders and targets.
  • Add a description of the outcomes’ significance and facilitate a reflection to see if some outcomes are more significant than others. Discuss with your partner why some outcomes may be are more significant than others.
  • Describing how the intervention contributed and discussing if some parts of the intervention (e.g capacity building or campaigning) appears to have been more effective than other parts. This is particularly important for future learning and may help determine if some activities are more effective than others

Encourage your partner to add the summary to the report and discuss how the findings can be used in the future.

Good luck

Want to know more? Please don’t hesitate to contact us on email or by phone if you want more information or have other questions on how to continue your work in a time of lockdown

Sten and Malene