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#102 Debriefing

October 24, 2011

As any Expat Aid Worker can tell you, ‘debriefing’ is a key part of ensuring that aid projects run smoothly and improve over time. A good ‘debrief’ can help the EAW and his or her team come up with all the key ‘lessons learned’ from whichever initiative or activity is being ‘debriefed’.

After a group of EAWs (and locals) from the same organization attends a workshop or conference for example, it is critical for the team to meet afterwards to debrief the event. Important observations such as ‘we should not sign up for sessions that we do not attend’ or ‘team members should take notes during sessions to share afterwards’ or ‘the conference venue should provide wireless internet for participants’ or perhaps ‘the day was too packed with little time for discussion’ will greatly enlighten fellow aid workers and conference organizers and enable the same mistakes to never happen again.

Upon completion of a ‘field visit’ to a project or program, the head office and key staff will want to debrief (preferably at the end of a 12 hour day before the person from the head office goes to the airport) to discuss what was seen that day, and what should be improved. The debrief helps highlight important areas for improvement like ‘the need to coordinate’ and ‘to ensure local ownership’ and ‘to undertake appropriate local capacity building initiatives’. Other critical points may be raised such as the importance of focusing on ‘improved communication to ensure achievement of program goals’ and ‘ensuring sustainability.’ This feedback is critical to document in the project folder so that in the future, these issues do not repeat themselves.

Any meetings with high level ministers or other partner institutions also require a debrief to reveal and note ‘key points for future action’ and ‘aspects to consider for future partnerships or joint initiatives’ such as ‘the need to establish clear goals’ or to ‘ensure clarity regarding key responsibilities within each institution or organization.’ Without such useful recommendations, it is likely that an organization would not realize the need for these core aspects that help partnerships and initiatives run smoothly.

Upon leaving a job post, an employee will be required to write up a full debrief of his or her activities to ease the transition period for the new hire. Actual overlap between the departing employee and the new hire would be ideal for ensuring continuity of work, however since this is rarely possible given that the hiring process always takes nearly 3 times longer than projected, a debrief is a great substitute. A key recommendation in the debrief may be that ‘actual overlap between the departing employee and the new hire would be ideal for ensuring continuity of work’ and this will surely be taken into consideration for future hiring and debriefing processes.

Debriefs can happen at any time post-event or -activity, even up to 3 or 4 months afterward; often necessarily delayed given busy schedules and the difficulty in coordinating a time for the debrief. The fact that no one remembers what happened at the event or activity by that time does not make a debrief any less valuable. Important recommendations can still be gleaned from the debrief, such as ‘in future, debriefing should happen immediately following the event or activity to ensure that important recommendations are not lost.’

Debriefing is a core way for EAWs to ensure that lessons are learned and mistakes are not repeated.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 24, 2011 6:43 am

    I have been on the receiving end of those debriefs and sometimes they take place at the airport !

  2. October 24, 2011 5:09 pm

    true, sad, and funny.

    loved this bit “Actual overlap between the departing employee and the new hire would be ideal for ensuring continuity of work, however since this is rarely possible given that the hiring process always takes nearly 3 times longer than projected, a debrief is a great substitute.” although it should read that it takes three times longer than the actual project.

    on a more serious note, I am often the one giving those rushed debriefings, and have to say, it is pretty hard on my end too to come up with anything that makes sense in the 45 minutes I have to prepare them, but I do think it’s important to schedule a face to face of what you are going to be feeding back to HQ so that a more fluent and open discussion can take place.

    never done one at the airport yet though….

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