A few years ago, I’d freely admit that writing up evaluation reports of advocacy projects was the least favourite part of my job.
It wasn’t the actual evaluation that was the issue. I really enjoyed sitting down with the team to try and unpick what had happened and why. The problem was digging out the myriad of different types of evidence to support a write up of the analysis.
Quite often, the most revealing elements of evaluation workshops were anecdotal – the unexpected enthusiasm of a particular civil servant to a new policy briefing, which led to influencing opportunities we’d never planned for. But over the course of a project lasting a couple of years, trying to remember exactly what happened was always a challenge.
We tried on numerous occasions to improve the way we documented progress, but always found the word or excel documents we set up would contain a flurry of entries for the first few months, only to be cast adrift in the depths of our shared drive when things really started to get interesting.
I’ve always been sceptical about using technical fixes for this type of problem, but when Duncan Green suggested setting up an ‘impact diary’ on Evernote, I thought it was worth a try.
For those who haven’t used it, Evernote is an extremely flexible notebook app that enables you to collect and tag text, documents, pictures, clippings of web pages- and pretty much any other digital content- as a series of notes. It’s a web-based system, but upgrading to the premium version lets you use it offline. The other big advantage of premium is that multiple users can all contribute to the same notebook (even if the individuals themselves are using the free version).
I’ve now used Evernote to collate monitoring information in both an INGO and an academic research institute – and it has worked brilliantly in both settings. It does a great job of acting as a dumping ground for anything and everything that might be related to the overall impact of a project. By making it really easy to capture as much detail as possible, it gives a much richer picture and provides evidence of how advocacy and uptake projects are really panning out.
Evernote’s easy integration with both Outlook and web browsers are key – making it a doddle to capture and tag emails or web pages that might (or might not) end up making a contribution towards impact. When issues are moving quickly or you have a spike in activity, it’s often difficult to identify what’s most important, or to devote time to documenting changes. By making it easy to stick in anything that might be relevant, you can ensure nothing is missed when you go back and sift through it. In particular, being able to log notes without leaving Outlook is a real boon.
Enabling a whole team, potentially in different locations to all contribute to a central project notebook has worked well for me – even where people weren’t using Evernote previously. At regular team meetings we run through the most recent entries, to add in anything we’ve missed and also to understand and interrogate the changes and progress we’re seeing as a project rolls out. Occasionally, these conversations have helped us to adjust our tactics and increase our chances of achieving real impact.
Impact diaries (or journals) are derived from the ‘outcome mapping’ school of monitoring and evaluation. However, they work perfectly well as a stand-alone tool and can fit into other M&E approaches. If the prospect of having to write up another evaluation report without evidence of the really interesting bits makes you shudder, I’d recommend that you give Evernote a try!