That PD thing again

And here we go again! Second major process documentation workshop after the Lodz workshop in July 2007, a workshop where IRC and partners tried not so much to settle a definition for the concept as to allow participants to play around with three media: text, video, photography. This time, the workshop is sponsored by the WASHCost project and includes participants from other background (see my latest blog post about this).

On this first day, we have covered the why (aims of process documentation), the principles of P.D., the basics of interviewing and the initial steps into a process documentation plan.

First observations from the field – more like a hotel room if you ask me:

  • A definition may emerge. The exercise about prioritising the aims – from a list of over 20 aims that our facilitator Peter McIntyre collected from five different projects using process documentation – went amazingly well and placed a few objectives high up – does this mean an agreement comes naturally or certain messages have been crafted well enough or repeated often enough to influence our participants? Either way, this is a very encouraging result.
  • The lines between communication and monitoring are still very much bordering process documentation work. As my colleague Nick Dickinson put it, process documentation helps identify interesting areas to document – leading to crafting communication messages – and it helps again at the end of the loop to monitor how stakeholders have responded to our interactions.
  • Principles of process documentation are emerging, and the real of information integrity is getting unpacked: one needs to check that outputs are correct (either directly with the stakeholders concerned or at least in the team if the output does not make it publicly); it is clear that some of your partners will not accept your (partial) vision; inside the team, constructive criticism should be encouraged: if the process documentation specialist is roughly a 75% team member role, s/he should also play a 25% external ‘ journalist’ role where s/he feels free to provide constructive feedback.
  • The importance of short feedback loops is essential! Regardless of the final process documentation outputs, key insights from process documentation work should quickly inform the team operating. This is part of the constructive feedback mentioned above.
  • The name, however unsexy it is, has made it in the common language – granted, in certain circles only. The India team didn’t want to change the term ‘process documentation’ because it is known by their learning alliance partners and changing names would create more confusion.
  • In spite of all these very encouraging signs, it is remarkable to see that when it comes to process documentation planning (perhaps an oxymoron?), most teams quickly jump on outputs/products, reinforcing the quick consumption culture of the development sector. Slow food (read: learning) is not on the menu quite yet. Adopting a learning culture is not yet an easy reality to implement. According to one of the external (non WASHCost) participants (in charge of communication activities in her organisation), this kind of process documentation activities was not in the agenda because it takes too much time. Ooh, that battle is far from being won, but hey, one starts somewhere… and still improvements are noticeable.
Process documentation as a reflection on and of reality
Process documentation as a reflection on and of reality

Anyway, with an approach (process documentation) that’s increasingly meaningful, I personally think that it’s never been as good a moment to name this thing differently. No one has come up with alternative names yet, in spite of our repeated urge to devise new names.

My personal brainstorm outcomes: process enquirers (booo), rapid reporters (duh), effective(ness) detectives, action investigators, agents provocateurs (revealing the invisible), change rangers (scouting for and identifying trails), trail hunters… the list could go on and on I guess. It would be fun doing an exercise about the kind of figure (hero, character or even animal) that process documentation specialists think about when considering their function?

At any rate, of all three key PD actions (observe, analyse, disseminate), I would say observe/intervene is the key one. And for that reason, detective or ranger sounds like the closest match.

I can’t wait for tomorrow… see what our productive detectives come up with…

Published by Ewen Le Borgne

Collaboration and change process optimist motivated by ‘Fun, focus and feedback’. Nearly 20 years of experience in group facilitation and collaboration, learning and Knowledge Management, communication, innovation and change in development cooperation. Be the change you want to see, help others be their own version of the same.

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