The F Word

I am talking about FEEDBACK. We live in suspense till we get it. And then when we get it, we are not always sure what to do with it! Yep…this is going to be a rant!!!

As a matter of principle, I have nothing against Feedback. In fact, in our development sector, feedback becomes even more important as we aspire to be participatory and contextual. So we should welcome, or rather, consciously seek feedback from contracting agencies/NGOs as well as key stakeholders involved in a particular assignment. We may get points that we hadn’t thought of. We may be challenged in our understanding and practice. This is good. This is needed. I am all for it.

But then, some people also turn feedback into a time consuming/whimsical/irrational/ “I am so great you need to listen to me” exercise. Take your pick. I am sure you would have experienced one or more of these scenarios. Sometimes, and this does happen, these scenarios even merge into one experience. It is like the Theatre of the Absurd. I never fully understood that when I was studying it in literature and now I do. Talk about collateral benefit!

Still, if we do manage to handle the stress and our temper and not lose our jobs, we may end up learning something. Like patience and diplomacy. Even improve our work related skills. What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger, right?

She Writes Minutes and Donor Reports

Different people understand documentation differently. But there seems to be a consensus on the basic expectations from a person designated for the documentation role – writing minutes and donor reports. Of course, I have come across organisations that have a fuller understanding of the scope and purpose of the documentation role. But they are in a minority.

Before I go any further, let me say that I have nothing against writing minutes and donor reports. We must record our meetings. That is common sense. And, of course, we have to write reports for donors. It will also help ensure that we continue to have donors! But the problem is that the documentation person is forced to write minutes for every meeting that he (or more often she) attends. Sometimes, he/she is asked to come to a meeting only because we need someone to write the minutes. We seem to believe, rather conveniently, that only the documentation person can write minutes!

And when he/she is not writing minutes, he/she should definitely be writing donor reports. It doesn’t matter if you get the data at the last minute. Sometimes, it won’t even add up. The documentation person is supposed to have magical powers of making everything come together in a coherent whole. And yes, also do some creative writing and throw in some learnings and challenges for good measure!

But there is so much more that a documentation person can do. He/she should really be helping to develop a documentation plan for the project/programme and then follow that. Develop a list of possible documentation outputs (yes, donor reports can be seen as an important part of that list!). Ensure that he/she and others in the team use standardised formats to collect information for case studies, events etc. Write all kinds of stuff. Publish some.

Documentation can, and should be, interesting and fun. That is why some of us choose to do this job in the first place. Let us hope the powers that be also realise this truth as well!