13 October 2011

Making field reports really simple

Knowledge management and development blogger Ian Thorpe reports on Akvo.org of the Netherlands which is helping to simplify communications about development and aid projects. 

Really Simple Reporting is a web publishing system lets anybody update a website while on location, even in remote places. They are aiming this product at development projects and donors, to encourage more active and timely reporting on activities and results. 

This system means that some communications about a project don't have to be funnelled back to headquarters or through a centralised project or communications team. Instead, development professionals and others on the front line can use mobile phones or laptops to keep everyone informed; from donors and line managers, to partners, participants and even beneficiaries.

I'm not sure it replaces detailed evaluations and the thick, data-filled reports that Akvo refers to disparagingly in its promotional literature, but if it helps people communicate in a more dynamic and personable way, it could be very powerful. One powerful argument is that it could help local partners to simplify the reporting process, if these communications were considered sufficient for a multitude of donors and partners. The ability to geo-tag photos and reports and to link to data where necessary are among the many features that could be developed by the development community, due to the open-source basis of this product.

Any form of self-publishing needs clear corporate guidelines and standards, so that field staff are equipped and actively supported in communicating directly. Therefore, adopting this system will need thoughtful planning and the support of headquarters. However the results promise to be more meaningful and well organized than, say, a Facebook page. Development organisations and donors would do well to be wary of adding a new burden to otherwise busy front-line workers and volunteers, though many will doubtless relish the chance to share their experiences directly and to help shape public understanding and appreciation for the results they achieve.