Good impact stories require excellent reporting. Having the right mix of quantitative evidence, well visualized and applied; positioning your case-studies, and providing the relevant theoretical background are all part of telling a good impact story.
Start your report when you are designing the M&E framework. As implementation progresses, core things about the way teams understand their work changes too, and capturing these changes is key, particularly in contexts of complex or developmental evaluation. Being clear about precisely how the problem statement was defined, and having a clear and finalized logical framework for how the work initially set about to address this problem as close as possible to the start of the implementation is key for good M&E.
There are a few important aspects to think about as you compile your report:
Present the M&E system clearly at the start of the report. Include a diagram of your theoretical framework, as well as your more specific logical framework. The first should be stated more in the language and results and change, and should include concepts which are linked to and justified by empirical studies which form the basis of your programme rationale. You may draw from international studies, or your own past evaluations, but providing this clear background, not just for the change you hope to see, but why the programme was designed in this way is key for framing the project intention. The second; the Logical Framework should be depicted in the language of indicators, and the direction and quantity of the change you are hoping to measure.
Be sure to outline and describe the context: the beneficiary groups, and the circumstances of their lives. This is a section of the report where the problem statement and the programme rationale align, and it is also the point where you define the very heart of the change, whether you’re providing skills, information to change to mindsets, or whether you’re distributing resources. This is where you define any ongoing measures such as assessments and how this is relevant from the perspective of the beneficiaries, stated in the language of change.
Include a very clear description of the activities of the project. Although there is not space in an impact report to explore the full workings of a project, stating programme activities as the catalyst for change is extremely important. What activities are being undertaken, and why these are expected to create change is key.
Once you have clearly stated the intention of the project, as well as the intention and design of the system for measuring the project’s work, then it is a good idea to clearly state and describe the methods used in the M&E function, and to justify the chosen method. If you are taking a rigorous quantitative approach, for example in public health projects where change can be clearly measured; or if you are working in a complex social space, and have chosen to use a developmental or other realistic evaluation approach; the rest of the report will depend on the method you have chosen. Some methods, such as Social Return on Investment impact analyses include clear guides on how to report; while more qualitative, research oriented studies might be far less quantitatively analytical, but explanatory.
Whichever course your particular work might take, honesty and clarity are key. It is far more useful to reveal a missed milestone, or a goal not achieved (and why) than not to write about it. With the scope and extent of the problems which the communities of the world aim to remedy, there are only more lessons to learn. Including a section on ‘what didn’t work’ shows not only that the M&E has been effective, but also indicates that the organization is reflective and critical. For any project aiming to make serious change, this is the first step to ongoing improvement.
The bulk of the report should focus on the presentation of findings: the achievement of outputs and outcomes, and the project impact. The form this takes will depend largely on the type of work you are doing, and the adopted M&E methodology.
In summary, your report may take the following format:
A strong introduction is key. Be sure to state the overall length of time of the project, and the reach, or total beneficiary information.
Background and Context
Include a problem statement as well as the theoretical background, or literature review.
In this section, describe the programme – the overall vision (or results), the beneficiaries and the programme activities designed to create the change
In this section, you will bring together the contextual, and the programme design into a visual representation of the overall theoretical framework. Then, include the log frame, and a section on methodology.
Analysis of Outcomes & Impacts
In this section, you may explore the outputs and outcomes against the log frame as you have presented it. This may include graphical visualization of quantitative indicators, or case studies for more observation based, or qualitative change. Include a section on the overall impact, returning to and referencing the programme information outlined in the report, but more importantly defining convergence, challenges and lessons learnt.
Finally, once you have completed your report, take some time on an executive summary. Not only will having this ensure that high-level stakeholders can get the salient information in a short amount of time, but this will also provide the space to be more exploratory in the main body of reporting. If you can summarize your outcomes and impact findings into an infographic, this can also be useful for your communications and fundraising strategies. Be prepared that a good impact report can take months, and to truly capture the complexity of change, M&E teams should take note throughout programme implementation. Unlike an independent, external evaluation, and Impact Report can really be an opportunity to explore and explain the full length and breadth of change as you conduct your work. Whether entirely quantitative, and working within a relatively closed system, or as a record of the iterative growth and learning of your organization as it strives to have an impact, an Impact Report is your biography, your testament.