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#225 Toolkits

February 1, 2021

After a decade of research, monitoring and evaluation, and international conferencing, EAWs (and even some donors) have finally accepted that mobile apps are not a silver bullet that fixes deeply rooted issues in development and humanitarian contexts.

A good toolkit, though…. Now, that’s another story! Any complex issue can be easily broken down and resolved with a well-designed toolkit.

Men dominating the discussions at community meetings? Drop a gender toolkit with some best practices. Private sector tech partners contributing to genocide by weaponizing information? An advocacy toolkit on disinformation will help you convince big tech to change their business models. Child marriage on the rise due to natural disasters? Hire a human centered design firm, make a snazzy toolkit, and every family will understand the value of girls in time for the next big flood. Worried that your INGO might be racist? Use this year’s left over budget for a “decolonizing development” toolkit, and you’ll be on your way to a more equitable world.

When creating a toolkit, it is important that the content fit into a few pages. If not people will start asking for checklists (and everyone knows “we don’t want this to be a tick-box exercise”). At the same time, the toolkit must be detailed enough to cover every hypothetical situation that could ever come up for any team in any possible context. Otherwise the toolkit will not get good uptake. The best way to ensure you cover any possible situation is to make sure you have a robust review process, meaning one person from every team at your organization provides input into at least 5 drafts of the toolkit (a.k.a. “participation”). If you are creating a toolkit as part of a consortium or a working group (e.g., you are “coordinating”) this means having several people from each organization providing their feedback on all drafts. 

Once your toolkit consultant has sorted through all the input (and you’ve had several meetings with key stakeholders to ensure that their advocacy and branding messages are worded correctly), you’ll need to create an acknowledgements page. Be sure to thank every EAW and INGO middle or upper management staff by name so that the toolkit has credibility.  Don’t worry about naming local NGO staff or community members who provided most of the ideas and experiences and ‘good practices’ covered in the toolkit, as the toolkit is for their benefit, and their contribution is obviously part of your “localization” efforts (or something).

Also, make sure you add a disclaimer, noting that nothing in the toolkit represents the views of any of the organizations or donors involved and that any ideas in the toolkit are the sole responsibility of the consultant. Unless, of course, the toolkit is really good and starts to gain lots of traction. In that case, let it be known that the contents belong to the agency or donor that came into the consortium at the last minute and agreed to pay for the design (e.g., the one with the largest logo on the front cover).

A great thing about COVID-19 is that everyone everywhere is working from home. So there is no need to print your toolkit. This saves a lot of money. All toolkits can now be living documents, never printed, and endlessly iterated as jargon and proper wording shift over time. Thanks to Zoom, you can launch your toolkit online too, rather than having to organize a lot of in person workshops. This saves even more money and increases your reach. Do be sure to invite local staff and communities to the online toolkit launch and training so that they can build their capacity.

Toolkits are great. They can solve just about any problem in any context. They are one of the most versatile and scalable solutions in the aid world. If you really can’t figure out how to solve a problem, it’s probably because you haven’t invested sufficiently in toolkit development.

So get yourself a consultant, put together an advisory group, and get to work on developing a toolkit. You will be well on your way to changing even the most intransigent behaviors, addressing complex historical legacies, and shifting power dynamics that contribute to poverty and conflict.


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