For years in the development world, we have heard about the importance of monitoring and evaluation. Tracking progress is key. So we hire experts, write lengthy reports to our funders and then continue on with programming. Occasionally we gather at a conference and learn about a great new innovative approach and we do our best to implement these ideas and best practices into our efforts and then repeat the process all over again.
It’s well intentioned, but the truth is that every development professional is short-staffed, working on reduced budgets and trying to make a bigger impact. Report after report is written, but change takes time. And who is reading these reports? And what difference are they making?
Leading up to the UNGA, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation released their widely anticipated Goalkeepers report. It was different. It was moving. It told a story. But why does that matter?
As someone who has written the quarterly reports, and now works with nonprofits to better tell their stories, I was thrilled. The phrase “Goalkeepers: Stories Behind the Data” literally moved my husband and I to do a happy dance with our children. Because data is important, but so are the people behind the numbers.
Goalkeepers carefully selected case studies and stories that highlighted the success that those of us who currently aren’t in the field, rarely get to see. It brought the numbers to life and made a case for maintaining current levels of funding and where more funding is needed. It humanized problems and made them relatable to people who don’t work in the development world.
We live in a time where it is easy to be overwhelmed by information and yet a simple blog post can change someone’s mind. Gone are the days of experts in the field and on the rise are influencers whom we know little about beyond their Instagram accounts. This is a reality that we are facing and we need to deal with it head on.
Yes, data is important. But the “quiet progress” as noted in Goalkeepers, is important to consider. That progress is the story of a widowed woman in India who can now send her children to school because she received a micro-loan. That progress is the story of an Imam in Senegal who is training other Imams on the importance and religious authenticity of family planning.
Videos, case studies, interviews, interactive graphics all contributed to the impact of Goalkeepers. Local voices told the story. Data showed the progress and gave validity to the report. Visuals kept our interest and compelled us to scroll further.
We know how vital the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are to eliminating poverty. They were created for a reason, but there is also a reason SDGs aren’t a household name. People are overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start to help eliminate the problem. When a hurricane strikes at the heart of Texas, families are told to donate to 100 different nonprofits. It’s confusing when this isn’t your world and your passion.
This issue must be addressed. Goalkeepers did just that. The case studies have begun the process of bridging the gap between development professionals and the everyday human who is working hard to take care of his or her family. Telling stories is important. It keeps projects alive and makes them palatable. It’s why we praise doctors with bedside manners, so those of us without a medical degree can better digest the information being told to us. We must learn to adapt and do the same as development professionals.
My biggest takeaway from Goalkeepers was that data drives results, but stories move people to action. Let’s all continue to build on existing data so that we can achieve the big results, but not forget the “quiet progress” being made, one story at a time.
Stefani Drake is the Lead Strategist + Founder of Drake Strategies. Stefani has over a decade of experience working in the US government, international NGO space and with domestic + international nonprofits. Currently on the UNDP's Roster of Communication Experts in Subsaharan Africa, Stefani is an analytical thinker and thoughtful storyteller who works with nonprofits to define who they are, elevate their influence and broaden their impact through strategic communications. Stefani lives in Charleston, South Carolina with her husband, twin girls and rescue dog.