Process documentation – Sandbox to influence donors?

I am currently involved in some process documentation work for this project in Ethiopia, RiPPLE ( and back in my organisation there is a lot of discussion as to what process documentation is or is not.

In order to underestand what it is, let’s rewind here a bit: the term process documentation refers to a very old habit: reflecting about events and happenings and understanding the deeper causes behind.

I recently wrote an information sheet on process documentation for that same project and here is my hunch at explaining it: “We all take time to think about what is going on, to reflect about the factors, be it people, activities, context or anything else, influencing our actions in a positive or negative way. Process documentation encourages such reflective moments to become conscious, regular and structured so as to capture deeper insights and patterns that emerge in our work.

Process documentation was first carried out as such in the EMPOWERS project (, with help of one full time ‘process documenter’ in each of the three project countries. Later on, process documentation (process doc or PD as it is sometimes referred to) has been included in a number of projects we developed with partners.

A training course in Lodz (Poland), in 2007, tried to explain a bit better what PD is and how it works. The workshop was highly stimulating and fun (check for more info), but frankly it didn’t unpack the concept of process documentation for us participants.

So we are now at a point when the concept is developing in many different directions – and that is good, following a divergence-convergence evolution pattern here? – but it is interesting to see the various interpretations of it.

My take on process documentation at this point is really that it is everything that doesn’t belong (yet, hopefully) to either monitoring nor communication. Again quoting the information sheet I prepared here:

Much like monitoring, process documentation consists in collecting information and analysing it to understand the underlying factors that enable or hamper work. Contrary to traditional monitoring, however, process documentation is mostly based on qualitative data collection methods and it is totally focused on learning, as opposed to accountability.

Much like (some) communication activities, process documentation uses interviews, storytelling, blogs and other ways to collect information. However, contrary to communication, not all information collected through process documentation is actually published and disseminated because it holds a lot of sensitive information and potentially political value. Some is, some is not.


So process documentation is a sort of informal, narrative-based monitoring exercise that collects some information that can be partly used for outreach and communication objectives. In an ideal world, where learning would be central and everybody would be ready to accept the consequences of creating a learning environment, process documentation would overlap completely with monitoring (i.e. qualitative monitoring methods would be accepted just as well as quantitative ones) and a lot of outputs from it would be derived in communication outputs.

But we don’t live in an ideal world and so process documentation still is a middle way between these two major areas of development work. But as much as innovation happens at the edges, what process documentation holds is actually the crux of the matter that makes or breaks a project.

Actually this is from the beta version of the information sheet and I doubt this will make it to the final version, due to the informal language.

It is that formal-informal barrier that we should try to break, because that is what creates hurdles to communicate better from local communities all the way to donors. And for that particular aspect, I’m not sure process documentation itself is the best approach, because it is more observing than taking an active part in the debate (or is it not?).

Anyway, process documentation is still useful practice ground to analyse deeper patterns and structure learning better, something that hopefully will lead, further down the line, to donors adapting their requirements on monitoring and their communication expectations…

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