Monitoring and evaluation

After Action Review: A basic introduction

By 2 May 2012

What is an ‘after action review’ (AAR)?

An ‘after action review’ provides a means of reflecting on the ‘success’ of a task or project which has already been carried out and implemented.This process is about enquiring the projects elements to discuss and question as a team whether it was successful or not.

AAR is best completed in a group and asking participants to review what was intended, what actually happened, why it happened and what was learned. One member of the group usually facilitates, capturing results on a flip chart or in a document.

Why are AAR’s useful?

This can be a simple useful strategy in bringing about organizational change. After action reviews are usually carried out immediately after the projects finalisation, therefore details of it are still fresh in the minds of those involved. This makes it easier to pinpoint specifics. It is also encouraged that AARs are carried out after other important stages of the task, although the concluding evaluation is typically most important.

Questions to ask:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why were there differences?

The purpose of these questions is to make sure there is clarity on the task that was carried out. This common understanding should then follow with group discussion.

  • What worked?
  • What didn’t?
  • Why?

These questions are the reflection on the project as a whole, ultimately exploring if it was successful or not. Asking why is key at this stage.

  • What would you do differently next time?

This question helps reinforce suitable courses of action that have been agreed by team members. They should be clear, specific and reachable ‘future oriented recommendations’ and goals, to help move forward with the project/activity/event.

Tips:

  • Try to time the session. This can help to capture the extent of the learning process.
  • While participants should all be members of the project/organization, a ‘facilitator’ could be chosen to help organise the workshop and to create an open atmosphere that generates discussion. Therefore this person should be laid back and easily approachable.
  • If for some reason discussion stalls make sure the ‘facilitator’ has questions prepared that will help the discussion flow.
  • Use flip charts and diagrams to help aid the process.