Social Reporting – SDC Lessons to be Learned

March 29, 2011 | Adrian Gnägi | Methods & Tools |


Rating: none

Adrian picture for sdclan

by Adrian Gnägi

SDC has been experimenting with Social Reporting for roughly 2 years now (see two earlier blog posts by Tobias and by Adrian). After the latest experience with the meeting of SDC’s “decentralization and local governance” network (dlgn) in Sarajevo in March 2011, we think we are ready for mainstreaming. Below please find some of our main “lessons to be learned”.

Who should report?

The basic idea behind social reporting is that “all” participants in an event should report, thereby providing for polyphonic narration and democratic representation. While I fully endorse the value position this concept is based on, we found serious practical constraints when trying to implement it. There are attention & time use tensions & trade-offs between “participation” and “reporting”: social reporting turned out to mostly be night work. When disentangling issues, we realized that in using video reporting, voice can be separated from reporting work. Our current thinking therefore is that not everybody should be pushed to report on everything using all reporting media, rather:

  • volunteer social reporters should be provided with the opportunity to contribute however they want, and should be encouraged to do so
  • the bulk of the reporting work should be outsourced to professionals (video as primary specialization); their main orientation should be to capture the voices of participants
  • a core social reporting group of interested and knowledgeable participants should guide the pros, mainly indicating who to interview on what; given the current (low) overall video competence in SDC, the combination of video course & coaching with social reporting is a win-win (see video explanation by Hynek Bures)
  • all participants should be pushed to report on their individual learning, in order to facilitate the link between individual and organizational learning (see learning on Sarajevo event).

The exact reporting setup will of course depend on the type and scale of the occasion. I argue below that “one professional video reporter for every 20 participants” might be a reasonable rule of thumb.

Which reporting media?

We mostly used text, video, photos, power points, and some audio recording. When relating media to content, the following considerations proved useful:

  • Text is great for orientation knowledge (explanation what the reporting is all about, linking reports to program, organizing individual reports into overall narrative), as marked individual contribution (“my personal learning”, “my impressions of today”, “my presentation in the XY session”), and for normative statements (“decisions on next steps”, “plenary conclusion reached on XY”). Because of their totalizing nature, texts should whenever possible not be used for anonymous, summarizing reporting.
  • Videos proved most useful in the form of testimonials (one person explaining or summing up an issue in a 2 to 4 minute statement) or as “mood movies” (reviews of an entire day, mixture of documentary footage and interviews). Feature or news type videos would be nice to have, but proved (too) time-consuming to produce. We are currently experimenting with doing a 25 minutes documentary on the Sarajevo event in post-production, using footage from the existing testimonials and mood movies.
  • Photos on the social side of events proved exceptionally popular, eliciting more response and comments than any other media. Photos play a key role in stimulating social dynamics and ownership of both the event and social reporting. In the first few events we just collected photos shot by participants and put them on-line. Too many, average quality too low. In Sarajevo, one of the pros did a selection for each day and carefully edited them before uploading. We are not quite sure how useful photos are to capture content: photo documentation of charts and pin-walls of course is very popular with organizers and moderators, since it is fast and easy, but how easy is it for participants or outsiders to understand?
  • We learned not to underestimate the documentation of input material which mostly come as power point presentations. The format first used by the Ulaan Bataar social reporting crew proved useful: an event program matrix with links to power points, photo protocols, background reading etc.
  • Audio currently is our biggest challenge. Modern, mid-range digital cameras and good smart phones proved very useful for video reporting, but audio quality often is poor. We will be experimenting more with external blue tooth microphones and separate audio recorders.

What platform?

Publishing platforms for social reporting have been a nightmare for me in the past. I am not going through that, just a short indication of two major issues: ease of upload and accessibility for users. We currently think that a wordpress blog with a few plug-ins solved most of our past problems (see explanations by Tobias). Main draw-back: the ordering principle of a blog (last published, top position) makes sense during the event, but is rather awkward for permanently organizing content after the event, leading to some post-production work of reorganizing content (roughly one day). When organizing content into navigation structure, we found useful to:

In Sarajevo, we had uploading outsourced to one of the pros.

How to use products of social reporting?

We learned to look at social reporting more and more as a form of organizational development: it is not about the event only; it is also about how the organization handles information and learns from the grass roots. One of the implications is that we have started to pro-actively promote the use of social reporting products:

  • during the entire event, the reporting platform is promoted on the SDC intranet
  • during the event (each morning as wrap-up from the day before, during breaks, for summing up), social reporting products are integrated into the program
  • participants are lobbied not to write traditional “back to office reports”, but to use social reporting products when reporting back to their teams and their superiors (for the Sarajevo event, we provided participants with a “back to office report” template where all major links to the blog were included already; all participants had to do was to fill in a section on their individual learning)
  • public viewing of products after the event (team meetings; a public viewing with SDC managers is planned for the Sarajevo material); linking the social reporting blog onto other platforms (this blog post, for example).

We did not use Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn to promote SDC social reporting yet.

What is the cost/benefit relation?

Let me sketch the efficiency question using the dlgn Sarajevo meeting as example:

  • 70 participants, 5 days
  • Social reporting costs/benefits: 4 consultants, total 35 days, remuneration roughly 30’000 SFr; equipment rental etc. 2’000 SFr; total 32’000 SFr. In the 2 weeks that elapsed since closure of the meeting: 770 blog visits, average visit 3.4 page views in 4.5 minutes, 384 absolute unique visitors. At least 10 public viewings in field offices, HQ division and domain meetings.
  • Comparator cost/benefit assumptions: 1 day editing per 70 traditional back to office reports (average 500 SFr./day) adds up to 35’000 SFr. Average reader/report (for break even with social reporting, each report would have to be looked at by 5 people for at least 9 minutes)? Use of written reports in team meetings?

Extrapolating from the above, it seems safe to assume that the cost/benefit relation of social reporting is positive if a 1/20 pros/participants ratio is respected; or put differently: 500 SFr./participant.


Comments to“Social Reporting – SDC Lessons to be Learned”

  1. Interesting… You might be interested in the social reporting guide we wrote for CGIAR:

  2. Very interesting blog post, Adrian! In my opinion your point on seeing social reporting as a form of organisational development is extremely important. Not only because whether an organisation does social reporting or not reflects how it handles information and learns, but also because social reporting at f2f events of networks can be seen as collective and regular capacity building efforts. The more frequently social reporting is used at f2f meetings of SDC’s networks for example, the more people will be skilled in this form of reporting and willing to actively contribute to such exercises – making them even more efficient as the focus shifts from the learning to the output element. Consequently, it seems to me that in the early stages of mainstreaming social reporting it seems crucial to recognise and fully appreciate the joint learning element that goes with it.

    To complement what you have already mentioned in this respect, I would like to share the three main lessons I drew from my experience as a video coach at the f2f of the DLGN:

    1) Manage expectations and schedule basic learning moments during the f2f
    >>Before social reporting can start, a team of volunteers has to be organised and briefed. In Sarajevo this was done mostly through a crash course on producing short films for social reporting purposes on the Sunday before the even started. Ideally, such a course/briefing should include three things. First, a more theoretical input on interview techniques, planning, shooting and possibly editing a film. Second, a planning slot for making social reporting groups based on the agenda and the interests of volunteers. Third, a group-based coaching moment where each coach can clarify technical issues (e.g. related to the cameras of volunteers), answer individual questions and plan the week with the video reporters. This initial planning element in groups can also help identify individual training needs and manage expectations, i.e. volunteers understand what they are expected to produce in which time frame and can organise themselves accordingly.

    2) Plan the outputs of social reporting in line with the learning curve of social reporters, i.e. video volunteers:
    >>With a social reporting group that has relatively limited experience in social reporting, i.e. producing videos, juggling the learning and immediate output requirements may be a challenging endeavour both for the volunteers who are producing their first film and learning by doing as well as the coaches who should facilitate the learning process while ensuring that the output (film) meets the expectations in terms of content. One thing that could make this process easier is to structure the learning process throughout the week and plan the required outputs in line with this. For example, ask the volunteers to make short interviews with people involved in the workshop of their choice on the first day of the workshop and then produce and upload these simple films to the blog immediately. This motivating experience of making a simple film in a short time frame can then be built upon and more complex, structured films can be produced as the week progresses. With this procedure, expectations and progress markers are clear and the volunteers can apply what they learnt from the first film in the next one. At the same time, a mix of videos can be produced in a more natural way throughout the week: some well structured and planned ones and others that are short and simple quick wins.

    3) Peer support is very important and works extremely well:
    >>The social reporters mostly produced their films in pairs and this was good because they could each focus on different aspects of the film production, e.g. while one person focused on the content of a workshop session thinking of possible ways to structure the film and keeping track of who could be interviewed after the session, the other person could concentrate on filming and the technical aspects that go along with this. Working in pairs also proved useful for mirroring ideas on the structure and content of the short films.

  3. Reto Wieser says:

    Indeed, I spent much more time looking into the videos, texts and photos than I would have by reading your back to office report. What struck me a lot: It seems that with this kind of reporting the distinction between “process” and “product2 becomes somehow blurred – the more that the website has the potential to be amended over time. You and your colleages have made a great job with the social reporting on the dlgn meeting in Sarajewo and and provided us with an impressive capitalisation of experiences. I don’t like the word “mainstreaming” but any network or organisational unit in SDC has now a really sound base for going into this way of reporting – the “costs” and “benefits” are at hands, the motivational aspects evident.

    Conceptually I was puzzled by your statement that you perceive “social reporting moore and more as a form of organizational development”. I may agree if by “organisation” you mean the participants of the f2f meeting but I have difficulties in seeing the social reporting as such (of process or product) as organisational development. Could you elaborate that?


Leave a Reply