Reports usually come in at the end of an activity or a project, and the job of a report writer isn’t easy. Digging up tons of information from the very beginning is rather burdensome, especially if the project ran during a number of years and many things, including staff, may have changed during this time. Do yourself a favour and start treating reporting as a continuous cyclical process rather than a one-off end-of-project task.
Below are the four steps to making reporting more simple, less burdensome and much more valuable to your team and organisation. Read also Reporting – a pure formality or value added?
- Plan for reporting during Project Planning
As you are planning a new project, think ahead about how you are going to report on its progress and achievements. Is your project idea implementable, do you have the necessary resources, and are your outputs measurable? A well-written project proposal will make reporting easier, which will in turn make donors happy and lead to raising additional funds for your next project or project extension. Thinking too far ahead? So should you. Good planning and preparation from the very beginning, including on how results will be reported and presented, is key to success.
- Ensure continuous monitoring and reporting throughout Project Implementation
Adopt a habit of collecting and storing data on a regular basis as it will form the basis of your reports and help avoid looking for information at a later stage, or missing important pieces of information altogether. Prepare a simple spreadsheet or another practical tool to help you record data; do not forget to include sources and dates so you can refer to these quickly when you need to. Pay particular attention to unique figures and numbers (number of beneficiaries reached, training participants, etc.), as these will simplify adding them up in the end. Prepare reports on a regular basis, covering the achievements and challenges during a certain period of time, be it a quarter, a month, or a week. Some donors request regular project updates which can often be presented in a form of project digests or newsletters. Make sure these are easy to read and showcase the most important information, such as activity highlights. Make sure the reports or updates are accessible to those who may need them at any point in time, also if you are no longer there. So uploading them to a shared drive or another knowledge management system is a good practice.
- Prepare the final report during Project Closure
Now that the project, or one of its phases has come to an end, you will be working on the final report which will showcase the achievements throughout the entire project implementation period. Make sure you refer back to the concept note and/or a project proposal which was developed during the planning and agreed by the donor(s), and consider explaining any deviation or adjustments which may have taken place (this is to highlight again why Planning for Reporting is important). Report on the indicators which were set during the planning stage. Prepare an outline and refer to your spreadsheet for which data you will need to put together the report. This will minimise the time looking for information saved all over the place, or reaching out to colleagues asking to provide information. Warning: some colleagues may no longer be there and may not have the necessary information; or if you have taken over the previous report writer, you may not get the information you need if it is sitting in their personal computer. Once you have all the information you need, start putting together the report.
- Apply lessons learned during Initiation of a new project
You are now initiating a new project, or an extension/next phase of an existing project. Do you start from scratch? We do not recommend you do. Refer back to the reports and pull out lessons learned during the implementation of the previous project. Organise a knowledge sharing session where key people involved in the previous project are encouraged to share their experiences. If you prepared a lessons learned report, or it is a part of your final report (highly encouraged!), this is great and should be used to inform the next project or programme more widely. If no such report is available, do not delay to bring people together and learn from them. This way, you will avoid reinventing the wheel and/or making the same mistakes. Build on what has already been done. Then start planning your new project.