Questions to Ask for a Major Report from the Developing World
Most people who write reports about their projects in the developing world rely heavily on field staff to provide information. Often, however, field staff aren't expert report writers, and struggle to provide meaningful, timely information in a coherent written form. These staff members can get bogged down in jargon, feel overwhelmed at meeting reporting requirements, and be reluctant to report information they feel reflects negatively on their performance.
Many report writers get around these obstacles by interviewing field staff about their work, so that needed information is provided through answers to questions. Such interviews, with standardized questions, not only gather the information needed for major reports, they can also build the capacity of field staff to provide written information themselves. Interviews can be done face-to-face, via phone or via email.
Here is a list of questions I used to interview staff at an initiative in Afghanistan that was focused on rural projects. I based these questions on
These questions were provided in writing for staff to use when they wrote reports, but we also used them in interviewing staff verbally, as we found that many staff felt more comfortable talking than writing.
- previous monthly and quarterly reports by the project I was working for
- suggestions and questions from donors, and what we anticipated they might start asking for
- the initiative's stated objectives
- my own need for information that could lead to stories in which the press might be interested.
- what information could be used for evaluation purposes later
- What did your unit accomplish this month/quarter?
- committees/assemblies established (where? how many? purpose? results/outcomes/impact?)
- planning processes undertaken (where? how many? purpose? results/outcomes/impact?)
- workshops undertaken (where? how many? purpose? results/outcomes/impact?)
- workshops attended by staff (where? names of workshops? sponsors? purpose? relationship of workshop's goal to our work?)
- site visits (where? purpose? results/outcomes/impact?)
- projects begun, halted, continuing or completed (what? where? purpose? why or how project begun, halted, continuing or completed? results/outcomes/impact?)
- drafted or published Request for Proposal (RFP)? (purpose? how communicated? chosen a proposal? how chosen? who chosen?)
- special requests made to your unit by partner organizations, donors, etc? (what and why? how handled? results/outcomes/impact?)
- negotiations? collaborations? (with whom? purpose? results/outcomes/impact?)
- evaluation undertaken? (purpose? method? time frame? results? how results will be/have been communicated?)
- policy proposed? changed? scrapped? (purpose? work done to date? results/outcomes/impact?)
- how did security, contract, procurement, transportation, facilities or HR issues affect any of the above?
- How were women involved in or a focus of your activities in this reporting period?
(to adapt this for your own needs, you could change this to a focus on youth, for instance)
- What activities did you or those you support undertake that were specifically focused on women? (results/outcomes/impact?)
- What activities did you or those you support undertake that involved women in any way? (results/outcomes/impact?)
- How did you outreach to women during this reporting period? (results/outcomes/impact?)
- How many women were involved in each of your activities?
- Did you prepare any materials regarding women-related activities? (what? why? how delivered? results/outcomes/impact?)
- Did you have any meetings with others regarding women-related activities? (what? why? results/outcomes/impact?)
- Did any of your activities focus on income-generating activities/jobs for women?
- Did you have any communications at all with the Ministry of Women's Affairs? (what and why? results/outcomes/impact?)
- Did you face any specific difficulties in involving women, or in trying to involve women and, if so, what were they?
- If you have not undertaken any activities focused on women or involving women especially in this period, say so, and provide a reason why.
- Environment & Health
- What activities did you or those you support undertake that were specifically focused on protecting natural resources? (cleaning trash, recycling, proper waste water disposal, etc.)
- What activities did you or those you support undertake that involved were specifically focused on improving sanitation? (including sanitation education/awareness)
- What activities did you or those you support undertake that involved improving health? (including health education/awareness)
- HR/Staffing issues
- Did you create a post? (name of post? purpose? temporary or permanent? who funds?)
- Did you interview anyone? (for what post? how many did you interview? any special challenges?)
- Did you hire anyone? (for what post? any special challenges in the hiring process?)
- Did you fire anyone? (for what post? why? how will this affect the program? will he or she be replaced?)
- Did any staff attend any trainings or take any classes? (name of workshop or class? purpose?)
- How is staff dealing with the work to be done? (enough staff? enough qualified staff? training needed?)
- Did you create or introduce new systems, rules, regulations or procedures? What and why?
- Did you engage in any activity or process to encourage transparency and accountability?
- Did any of the projects with which you are involved create skilled or unskilled labour days? How many?
- Other significant challenges and how you dealt with each:
- Conflict? Disagreements?
- Corruption? (bribes, falsifying reports, etc.)
- Lack of funds / funding gaps / funding installments?
- Policy changes?
- That your unit provided (dates of event? purpose?)
- That your unit attended (dates of event? sponsors? purpose?)
- Communications/Reporting issues
- proposals drafted or finalized? (name? purpose? how delivered & to whom?)
- plans drafted or finalized? (name? purpose? how delivered & to whom?)
- guidelines drafted or finalized? (name? purpose? how delivered & to whom?)
- debriefing provided? (to whom? regarding what subject? goal of debriefing?)
- HR issues affecting communications/reporting?
- communications/reporting with internal staff? government staff/officials? partners? donors? (who? what? when? why? how?)
- submitted information for the web site? (what?)
- translation issues?
- computer issues?
- how communication is done (face-to-face? onsite? phone? email? issues with each?)
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