Minding your P’s and C’s – what donors (and others) want

What donors want – no, not the bizarre horror sequel to a terrible Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt film, but the eternal driving question, so often nestled within M&E as much as any other area. Well, given my relatively few years working closely with them, I’ll choose to comment from a position of ignorance, much like the great and bizarre Alan Moore claims to prefer.

Having been the beneficiary of education in institutions who seek the nuance in otherwise homogenising and/or reductionist fields of analysis, they often have (at least) one critical blind spot: donors. Even through their various lenses of analyses, the very sight of a donor blurs them, leading to smudged and homogenised perceptions (perhaps David Mosse accepted). This is a problem, not least for consistency and integrity, but also for analysis. The same financing institution may have a culture, a reputation, a set of standards and approaches. Look a little more closely and internal dynamics are illuminated, and varied. Earnest desires for change can be contained within rigid frameworks, and yet remain and be influential. Domestic political will and gamesmanship hold sway. Individual personalities and biases skew and complicate. It’s a lot like the inner workings of any organisation, whether ‘humanitarian’ or not. Regardless, I’m going to try and convince you, in a similarly reductionist approach, what they all want to see. Hypocrisy indeed.

Tangent aside, let’s get back to bidness. So I think there is a simple, if incomplete, way to describe what donors want to see. Luckily, it’s a lot like what HQs want to see. What country directors want to see etc. etc. Asking for directions of influence and causality in terms of where those wishes originated (and who influenced who) is a whole other blog in the making, and leads us not into being even more tangential.

So ultimately, I think it boils down to two questions:

  1. What has been done? 
  2. What has changed?

Simple enough. For all my accordion chat, let’s put it into practice and stretch out this simplification. Both of these questions have two key facets:

  1. What has been done? – in terms of:
    • the performance of the programme
    • the progression of the programme
  2. What has changed? – in terms of:
    • the context
    • people the programme is working with

I’m sure you’ve seen many a form that seeks to coax the same points out with alternate articulation. They often start with Context: what has changed and how has that influenced the programme? They may then, broadly, move onto Performance – how has the programme performed, how well has it delivered? Then it’s Progress’s turn – how has the programme adapted, developed and sought to improve its performance? And last but not least, Change – what changes are being experienced, what indications of impact can be seen?

If you keep a ponder on these, some other links appear. What becomes clear is that the former and the latter are external to the programme – they are the context it works within and the people it aims to serve. Performance speaks mostly to outputs. Progress to adaptation. Change to outcomes (realistically speaking) and indications of impact. So if I put that into some semblance of order, it looks like this:

FacetUnderlying QuestionLocusSources
CONTEXTWhat has changed and how has that influenced the programme?ExternalReports: Context analyses, needs assessments, field reports, baselines
PERFORMANCEHow has the programme performed, how well has it delivered?InternalIndicators: inputs, outputs, value for money
Reports: narrative field reports, midlines, endlines
PROGRESSHow has the programme adapted, developed and sought to improve its performance?InternalReports: narrative field reports of adaptation and continuous improvement
Supplementary: change logs, evidence of change in response to feedback
CHANGEWhat changes are being experienced, what indications of impact can be seen?ExternalReports: evaluations, midlines, endlines
Indicators: intermediate outcomes, ultimate outcomes, impact
Supplementary: case studies, quotes, field reports

It may be a little simplified and reductionist in its most basic form, but it has proven a robust structure and, dare I say it, narrative structure. What I like about it is that it works for the long and the short alike. It can be accordion-ed down to a paragraph as an ‘elevator pitch’. It can be expanded out to a full annual report. Put the above together and you will have a strong section of any annual report or full donor report, internal report. In fact put any word in front of report and this wont be a terrible attempt at answering the questions underlying it.

So what do donors want? To know what has been done and what has changed. To better understand the Context, the Performance and the Progress of the programme and, of course, what Change that has all amounted to. It sounds a lot like what we all want.

Minding your P’s and C’s – what donors (and others) want

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