DIFFERENT KINDS OF REPORTS
By Phil Bartle, PhD
PART C: How to Write Reports:
These guidelines are written in such a way as to be useful for any field workers who work in projects with outside funding, and which are designed to stimulate local communities to manage their own development.
Different Objectives; Different Report Contents:
We noted that the objectives of the mobilizers are different from the objectives of the community projects that they support. That implies that their reports will be different, because the essence of a good report is that it compares results attained with results desired.
Reports in General:
One over-riding principle that you should aim for in all report writing is to report on the results of your activities. This requires some analysis on your part that goes beyond a mere description of your activities.
You are working for a project that has several donors, and is channelled through an agency that needs to be informed about some specific things going on in the field. Your reports are the main pathways or channels of information to the people who decide to fund this and other such projects.
Each separate report should be correctly identified. At the very beginning are the main identifiers, including at least the title (period and location the report covers) and the author.
At the very end are some identifiers that should appear on every document. Each report should include the following:
Those are some important elements of all reports. There are five kinds of reports that mobilizers should be familiar with, and they differ from each other.
Let us now go through the five different kinds of reports.
Monthly Progress Reports:
The following refers to any routine progress report: monthly, bimonthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual. A progress report is different from a situation report (sitrep) in that a sitrep merely states what has happened and what was done about it during the reporting period. A progress report, in contrast, relates activities to objectives.
The most important source of information about any project can be the routine monthly progress reports, if they are done the right way. The donors, the headquarters of the implementing agencies, the leaders in the target group, and the agencies monitoring the project and administering the donors' funds, all need to know how well and how much the project activities have led to attaining the project objectives.
Although progress reports may differ among several formats, somehow that distinction must be made. Design your report with two major headings: (a) activities, and (b) results, or, for each project objective, includes a section on (1) activities and (2) results of those activities.
A common mistake made by many beginners is to think that all they have to do is to report their activities. Not so. A good progress report is not merely a descriptive activity report, but must analyse the results of those reported activities. The analysis should answer the question, "How far have the project objectives been reached?" Since you are not beginners, and are professional, you can demonstrate your professionalism by going beyond the description of activities in your progress reports.
Always review the project objectives before writing any monthly progress report. Usually these are found in the "Project Document" (ProDoc). In the analytical component of your report, you could list those objectives, each as a separate section with a separate sub title, and write an analysis of how well you have moved towards meeting each objective. Where you have not reached the objective, or if you have over reached or under reached any quantitative aspect of it, you should include an explanation of why.
Community Project Reports:
A detailed monthly narrative report should include how far each of the intended objectives have been reached, what were the reasons they were not fully reached, any lessons learned, and suggestions and reasons about changing the objectives if they were found to need changing.
The narrative report can include information about events and inputs (what actions were undertaken, see below), but should emphasize outputs (the results of those actions in so much as they lead to achieving the stated objectives). Attention should be paid to the number and location of beneficiaries. The monthly report would best be organized into sections corresponding to the sections of the proposal.
As well as narrative reporting, there is the financial reporting. A detailed monthly financial report should include what moneys were received and from where, (1) what moneys were expended, listed line by line according to the budget categories in the proposal, reasons for over- or under- spending, and an assessment of how well the expenditures contributed to reaching the stated objectives of the project.
Footnote (1): We recommend that a CBO obtain resources (funds) from several sources. Do not let the organisation or group become dependent upon a single donor.
Mobilizers' Routine Reports:
Look at the difference between a community project report and a community mobilizer's report; remember that their objectives are different. The community project objectives should be simple, such as "to build a school," or "to rehabilitate a water supply." What are mobilizers' objectives (for reporting on progress)? A mobilizer's objectives are different from the objectives of a community based project, so progress reporting (on reaching objectives) will be different.
In simple terms, the desired result of the work of a mobilizer is a mobilized community. The job description of a mobilizer is to mobilize; and that encompasses several elements (eg. community unity building, ensuring participation of marginal and vulnerable groups, setting community priorities, management training, encouragement, leadership without politics). (2)
Footnote (2): This intervention involves three important elements: (a) awareness raising, then (b) mobilization, then (c) management training. Community management training first raises awareness for the need of transparent accountability; ways in which all community members can see for themselves that the received resources are actually directed to the project and not diverted to other things. Then the training goes on to the "How" of transparent financial accountability, the keeping of accurate double entry ledgers, the linking of receipts to entries, the production of accurate and valid financial statements and budget outcomes.
Here is a matrix that relates mobilizers' usual objectives with what should be included in mobilizers' reports.
Table 2: Reporting on Mobilizers' Objectives
|Desired Results||Actions Taken||Per Cent Achieved||Reasons Why||Factors Affecting||Hindrances|
|Unify a Community||Meetings to explain benefits; workshops||(estimate this and describe)||How willing is the community? How skilled is the mobilizer?||Awareness level, Meeting facilities, Education.||Social schisms, factions, lack of animation skills|
|Help Community to Assess itself||Training workshop about assessment||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
|Help Community to determine its priority problem||Animation meeting to set priorities||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
|Help community to define its goal and refine it to specific objectives||Management training; brain storming||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
|Help community to identify its resources||Brain storm session||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
|Help community to generate strategies and choose one||Brain storm session||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
|Help community to form executive committee (CBO)||Organizational meeting (election or consensus||"||How willing is the community? How skilled is mobilizer?||"||"|
For more on evaluation of the effects of community animation interventions, refer to the list of elements of empowerment of a community: Elements of Community Strengthening, and means of measuring changes in each of them: Measuring Community Strengthening.
Field Trip Reports:
While you can mention or list field trips in your monthly report, all major field trips should be reported in separate field trip reports.
A field trip should have a purpose, so your report on the trip should begin with indicating what was the purpose of the trip. The purpose should justify making the trip, even if you fail to achieve what you set out to do on the trip. The purpose should directly relate to at least one of the objectives of the project, as listed in the project document.
Technical details, of course, can be listed in any orderly fashion, dates and locations of the travel, persons met (with their titles, agencies' names, times of meeting, venue, and so on), sites seen, meetings attended. Make your list easy to read, easy to understand, and brief but complete.
A field trip report should emphasize the results of that trip. Did you achieve your purpose? To what extent? Why? What unexpected observations did you make? What consequences do those observations have? Have you observed indicators of any results of previous projected activities? Should any project objectives be modified from what you observed? Did you identify any new problems? Did you come to any new conclusions, alone or in discussion with some of the persons you met or meetings you attended?
Ensure that you report on the extent to which you achieved the purpose of your trip.
All meetings, of course, should have a purpose, and the purpose must be related to achieving the objectives of the project. Reports on those meetings, therefore, should concentrate on the purpose and indicate the result of the meeting in terms of progress towards meeting those objectives. See Meetings.
It is precisely in meeting reports that you can get misled by using the passive voice. Avoid phrases such as "It was stated that ..." or "It was said ..." Use the active voice by stating who said what: "Mr Otieno (The DA) suggested that we ..." or "The whole group (except Ms Kapia) agreed that ..."
The preparing of written reports is part of the substantive management skill training. The reproduction and distribution of narrative reports must be included in proposals and contracts.
As well as community project reports and mobilizers field activity reports, reports of workshops held are also valuable. After each workshop, the coordinator (with input from the other facilitators, including a written report from the main trainer) should write a report. The report should not be a list of activities that took place. Each report should be analytical, and focus on the result of the activities that took place, and how far they reached the objectives of the workshop.
As with all reports, such reports should not end with a list of activities, but indicate the results of those activities (the degree to which the desired ends are reached) and with lessons learned (about holding a workshop, not the lessons included in the workshop, which are in this case activities).
See: Preparing a Workshop.
What Topics Should Be Included?
Again, during several workshops with mobilizers, I asked participants what topics should be included in community project reports.
Most groups of mobilizers offered the following:
That forms the basis of a good check list, and you can turn it into a check list to review any report you write, or teach a community implementing committee to write.
Overall, however, remember that every report should compare what was expected or desired with what happened. Emphasize results of actions taken over description of the actions themselves.
For a model format of reports, which indicates where to place each of these topics, see: A Model Report Format.
So those are the topics that the different kinds of reports should contain. Finally, we go through some tips and advice on making reports good. A report is good (a) if it is read and (b) it is acted upon. How do we write good reports? See Better Reports.
Monitoring the Community Training:
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle