written by Alexander Oeze
One new key theme in the RC movement is CEA (community engagement and accountability). However, very often, in assessments, evaluations, monitoring missions, etc. we descend into communities like aliens, and very rarely do those communities receive feedback about the results of all those interviews, household visits, etc. So I thought it would be good to produce a short document that summarizes the key findings visually with little text, soon after the end of the mission. Final reports tend to go through weeklong, multiple feedback loops, and furthermore they are way too long to be realistically read by people, who have other stuff to do than reading reports.
As a first step I have started using “Comic-reports” to provide a more direct and digestible feedback to local RC branch staff & volunteers, who so far appreciated my reports.
How Comic Reports can contribute to CEA
I feel that Comic Reports contribute to CEA in many ways:
- Even without translation, my colleagues have something at hand, which they can use to explain the results of the expat-monitoring-invasion
- From my perspective, good CEA is very much a matter of attitude, which is not possible to train, but can be influenced by setting a good example. And the main point of engagement for PNS delegates/ desk officers/ consultants are rarely our final target populations, but our local RC colleagues (staff and volunteers). I.e. if we want to drive CEA forward, we have to live the principles, which we expect our local RC colleagues to apply in their work with local communities, in our own engagement with local RC staff and volunteers. This means, among other things, we should inform them about the outcome of our missions in a timely and target audience adapted manner. Local branch staff and volunteers will rarely read a 30+ pages English document that arrives several weeks after the mission. And I am regularly surprised, when local RC branch staff tells me that a lot of similar missions do not even bother to debrief them on branch level. Hence my comic reports.
- Another aspect I try to emphasize with the design of the reports is the deconstruction of the narrative of aid-dependency, which manifests itself in RC projects as the narrative that project improvements /innovations are based on recommendations by external experts. In the comics it is easier to show, that most of the ideas, analysis, recommendations are actually voiced by local staff/volunteers/populations. This I hope also increases pride and self-confidence of our local colleagues.
Step by Step Guide for Comic Reporting
This is the logical sequence that I usually follow:
- Decide about the key messages that you would like to communicate. Really focus on the key points only, the shorter the report, the more likely it is being read.
- Think about a story arc for each key message (e.g., introduce some background info about a particular issue ⇨ specify the issue/question/problem to be addressed ⇨ data/ observations/ etc ⇨ analysis/ recommendation/ conclusion (which should correspond to your key message)
- Think about a story arc to link up all the individual key messages (e.g., country/ district info ⇨ choronological/ thematic sequence, incl. possible links between the different key message stories ⇨ end/cliffhanger (e.g., story to be continued…)
- Think about which message or piece of info could be put into the mouth (as speech bubbles) or thoughts (as thinking bubbles) of which person. Ideally you put it into the mouth of people who actually said those things. But in case that does not work, you could ask e.g., colleagues if they feel comfortable if you put new words into their mouth. In general get permission of all the people you would like to show in the comic. In case there are sensitive/ contentious issues or unpopular recommendations, do not chicken out to take responsibility yourself and put the words into your own mouth, even if you have not said them in reality. Apart from speech/ thoughts, you can also add descriptive info in boxes or in titles.
- Once you know the words and who should say/think them, get the pictures of the people you need. Rather than portrait-type of photos, you probably want photos in which you see individuals or groups of people talking (for speech) or looking/ point at stuff or listening to people (for thoughts) you want photos you need. In reality you will most likely have to collect the photos before you know the messages/ words, etc. So during your mission/ assessment/ evaluation make a lot of photos, especially of your team talking with each other, talking with target population/key informants/ etc, people pointing at stuff (even if there is nothing to point at in reality), so that you have a good stock of photos to choose from. You might assign a team member as a photographer, in which case you should explain to him/her what type of pictures you expect.
- Use a free program/app like Comic-strip-it, halft-tone (or any other software of your choice) to prepare the comic. I would recommend to use a consistent style logic: eg. dotted bubbles and specific font for thoughts, solid bubbles and another font for speech, boxes with again separate font for descriptive text, etc.
- Turn the comic into a pdf with a pdf-printing tool.
- Send out your draft to the colleagues that appear in the comic and ask them for approval to disseminate the product. Be prepared to make changes if they feel uncomfortable with the way they are depicted or with the words/thoughts that you put in their mouth.
- Apart from simply distributing the pdf, you can also set up a prezi that will guide the audience through the comic, somehow half-way between a comic and a movie. See this example from Nepal.