Editing starts by organising information

Marta Rocha de Araujo

A couple of months ago I was invited to join a group of participants starting a capitalization process in Maputo, Mozambique, and to help them edit the texts they were preparing. I had read many similar articles coming out of previous workshops, but I had never followed such a workshop myself before.

Looking at what they were doing, my first question was if I could ever be sure that all the needed information was in the texts which I was to help edit. The answer I got was that we needed to “make sure the tables contains all the information” – a reference to the templates used during the exercise, and to the different “moments” in which the workshop (and the process) was divided. But these could be very, very long, or so it seemed to me. And if everything was in them, how to make a text out of them? Several participants shared my fears…

A couple of weeks after the first workshop, the first drafts started coming into my mailbox. Some were very good, but they were all very different. But the question I had before starting this assignment came again: is all the necessary information included in them? I thought I needed to answer this before seeing if all the sentences were in the right place, or if the thoughts were clearly and correctly formulated. In other words, before starting to edit them. So just as the participants had been told, I went back to the tables they had prepared during the workshop, and very soon I started to have doubts. How to make use of them? How to put all the information available together? And how to see what belongs to each chapter or section? This is when I grabbed a stiff cup of coffee and my colour pencils, and thought of the figure below.

Chunks and pieces
Looking back at the tables in detail, I saw that what I had been told was true: the necessary information was all there: in the tables with the boundaries, the description or the analysis. But this was not evident. So my first idea was to try to group the information collected for each case, dividing it into the big “chunks” which roughly make an article:

  • With the introduction we show what are talking about, and also emphasise why is it important – and for whom. Some participants were talking of their USP, or their differential.
  • Next, we present what happened, considering where, when, who, what, and clearly showing the results achieved.
  • The largest part of the story, or the analysis, is where we select the way we will look at what happened (choosing parameters and their indicators), and we show the reasons why this happened.
  • Last come the conclusions, as the key points of our story. This is where we include the main lessons and recommendations.

But it was important to remember our interest in drawing lessons – and that finding lessons implies looking at reasons, more than at facts. This is necessary if we are to support a general monitoring and evaluation process, or if we want to share ideas to inspire others and to encourage them to start similar initiatives. The analysis, any analysis, depends on the context in which this experience takes place. The context is part of and includes the political, financial, environmental, historical, social and even the organizational setting. These settings will determine the way we judge the results, labelling them as ‘positive’, ‘negative’ or even ‘unexpected’. And it is here where one finds the factors that influenced the outcomes.

Looking back at the objectives of the project and at its beneficiaries can help us improve the analysis and, therefore, to draw better conclusions. This is clearer if we pick a sentence like “The weight of the fishes raised from an average of 65g to 250g, due to the supplements of imported animal feed.” A team from an ecological production project may see these results in a very different way than those fighting malnutrition – or the fish farmer. And all are correct.

Back to Maputo
A few weeks after the first workshop, we all met again in Maputo, as the second part of the capitalization process. After a general introduction, I presented the diagram I had made, and this was well received by all participants. We had agreed to have a final version of every article for me to take home by Friday afternoon, so everybody wanted to write and write. But it didn’t work as we had hoped. On Thursday morning, a delegation of participants asked me to discuss the chart again.

So we went back to the general ideas we had talked about at the beginning. We looked at the tables everybody had been filling in together, and discussed the need to consider only the most relevant information. A general discussion of more than two hours helped us all share our doubts and ideas, highlighting the main purpose of an experience capitalization process. Not long afterwards, the essence of the approach was brilliantly summarised by one of the participants: “I thought I came here to tell what I did. Now I understand I have to tell why.” What we needed was to make use of what we had: a set of tables with different parts, all of which contribute to the analysis.

Then I realised I had built the chart and the presentation following a different logic from that of most of the participants. So while the first version of the diagram will remain in Portuguese, I made a second version in English. This second version, most certainly not the last, is an attempt to show the shortcut to the analysis. The diagram became slimmer; the name of the tables are translated in colours and presented in the legend. And I made some additions. For example, the objectives of the donors and of our own organization also shape our story, so they also got a place in the schema.

 

The final versions of the texts written by all participants at the capitalization process in Mozambique show that we all learnt a lot. Especially from the things we had to do again!

© 2016, CTA. Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation

CTA is a joint institution operating under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement between the ACP Group of States (Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific) and the EU Member States (European Union). CTA is funded by the European Union.