By Ben Haagsma
Development organisations wish to report in their annual reports on their results, so that their readers have a clear and attractive, but also a credible picture which changes have been achieved for the people they are working for. Practice is however that most annual reports are often describing the activities the organisation did with the funds but hardly anything about these changes. Whereas reality tells that changes are indeed happening in the field. The annual report therefore often gives an incomplete picture. How can that gap be tackled?
Save the Children Netherlands (SCNL) approached Fair & Sustainable Advisory Services with the question to make the information on their programmes in the annual report 2012 more result oriented. For the purpose of testing such a more result oriented reporting, three countries were selected: Haiti, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Reading the draft text for these three countries made it clear that this text did indeed focus on activities, but at the same time it contained many – valuable, but hidden – messages about possible changes! It was then decided to have short skype sessions with the programme officer concerned to talk about these hidden messages and stories. The professional text writer SCNL had recruited for this annual report joined these sessions.
These short – less than 1 hour – sessions turned out to be extremely productive and stimulating exercises. By asking precise questions about these hidden changes, the programme officers enthusiastically explained the various changes that actually had taken place. Changes they felt certain about and had observed in the field, in the village. Changes that were credible and could be reasonably validated. As a result these changes were now described in more precise terms by explaining the WHAT (what was this change all about?) and the WHO (which persons or groups had improved their situation and/or their contributions to these changes?). The text writer could quickly take up the necessary information and use that for the next version of the annual report.
- There is much more valuable information which so far remains hidden and invisible. But it can be quickly and effectively mobilized
- Programme officers are a rich source of information and they like to share that information; it did not require much effort to harvest that information
- The clear distinction between 1) activities implemented by the funding organisation and 2) the changes observed by the target groups or important stakeholders provides the crucial input for the structure for the annual report
- SCNL wishes to upscale this success pilot on a wider scale