Monitoring reports are NOT just about numbers. They're not about ticking boxes.
We did this. We did that.
It doesn't matter if the workshop was full. What matters is who came - were they the right people or the same old faces. And what about those we didn't reach - why weren't they interested? And how can we get the project moving forward.
And it doesn't matter how many brochures you distributed. What matters is whether they got to the right people and whether they got the message.
It's the same thinking that says if you attend four years college you come out with an education.
It isn't so. You just come out four years OLDER - if the teaching wasn't up to scratch or you were a girl sat at the back of an ill-equipped classroom while the teacher addressed himself solely to the boys.
Monitoring is about investigating.
All reporting is.
It's keeping things on track - and much more than that.
It's about constantly asking why things are as they are and how we can deliver better, how to make sure aid or inputs reach the right people, at the right time and no-one is overlooked. It tells us WHY we are on track or behind targets, and suggests what to do about it.
And if those reports are solid - and so few are - then when we come to review, at milestones, we have solid evidence - evidence to make STRATEGIC changes.
Review reports take into stock all the learning from monitoring. They also give us a chance to take stock of our stakeholders and how we are engaging with the world.
They allow us to review our assumptions and correct them so we aren't operating in some la-la-land that looks great as a PowerPoint but makes absolutely no sense when we leave our air-conditioned offices and 4x4s and actually meet the people we are supposed to be serving.
They give us a chance to assess risks once again. Are we still planning for something that is no longer a threat. And what new black clouds are gathering on the horizon?
Maybe - just maybe - if all these are in place - and done consistently - we may have something to write home about when the project ends.
We might have some success, some improvement in the lives of our target community. And, more than that, we can credit ourselves with achieving it.
But what's the reality?
Many people see reports as an obligation - whether it's responsibility to managers as part of a work plan, or to donors in the name of accountability and transparency.
And while that's one reason, how many opportunities to do better - both during the project and in the future if lessons learned really are learned - get overlooked?
And when did the concept of providing Value for Money come to mean the very minimum? Development projects have to hold themselves to higher standards than a fast food restaurant - activity measured, report sent, next customer please?
Development dollars are decreasing daily. And to keep that funding flowing, you need to be creating reports that consistently identify issues to be addressed and ways to do better.
People talk about reports in the same breath as Management Information Systems, as if an MIS was some mysterious and mythical creature. It's not. It's a system that informs management decision-making, so that those decisions are based on actionable information - information collected through thorough investigation.
So if you've had enough of useless reports - reports that don't contribute to sound evaluation, reports that don't keep projects on track - do something about it.
It's not that hard (and often easier than trying to fill in some template) and makes a huge difference - both in terms of management of knowledge within the project as well as positive change for beneficiaries.
In fact, you can learn a process for reporting that you can use time after time whenever and whatever you write, in just a couple of weeks in your spare time.
We created an online training course for busy development professionals like you so you don't have to up sticks (and blow your annual capacity building budget) on a week in Bangkok, Istanbul and Nairobi. You can do it right here at your laptop or tablet - and wherever you may go.
Click below to learn more about how you can:
- Reduce wasted time and deadline stress
- Create more impactful writing - impressing managers and donors
- Persuade your readers to take action and support good project decision making