Friday, April 11, 2014

If you can't visualize it... it doesn't work!

The other day I received a project proposal. It was 70 pages of long, repetitive development jargon. I couldn’t bear to read it. So, I looked for the logical framework to get a general idea of what the project was about: it dragged itself for 6 pages. When I got to the activities, I had already forgotten what the goals were.

And this is not an isolated case. Project proposals, quarter reports, evaluations… they all have a tendency to err on the long side. More is better must be the thinking behind it. But is it really the case? In many cases, long, repetitive documents try to hide the lack of substance of the projects that inspire them. So, if you have not done much with the last two years of funding, write a long report so that people will get ΓΌber-bored reading it and will not dare questioning your work. I call these cases desperate and try to stay away from them.

But there are also cases of projects that have actually done a lot and are so willing to communicate their results that end up incurring in the same mistake. Monster reports stretching 30-40 pages with minor details are equally daunting for the reader.

How to improve that? Visualizing information is the key to deliver important information. It can be done with concept maps, mind maps, smart graphics, geo-referenced maps, etc.

Here is a fictitious example of a geo-referenced map of a WASH project. It takes few minutes to put together with free software and adds a lot of value to any communication material:

map of new wells built in South Sudan