RAAR! Rapid After Action Review, Part II: Successes and Challenges
This blog is Part II in the two-part series on Rapid After Action Reviews (RAARs). Read Part I for background on what a RAAR is, when it should be conducted, and how to conduct one – including a template!
As the teams I work with used the RAAR process over time, they identified two extra categories for action planning that may be useful for your team: things not to do next time, and things to plan for in the longer term. Use them if they are useful to your team, and feel free to skip them if they are not!
Successes: USAID teams that have conducted Rapid After Action Review include the following:
- USAID/Tanzania Program Office, to strengthen PPR processes, both internally and with mission technical teams
- USAID/Tanzania CDCS Consultative Group, to pause and reflect on a high-level field visit and document actionable stakeholder contribution to the mission’s country-level strategic stocktaking exercise
- Innovation, Technology and Research Hub, to iteratively adapt Digital Development training delivered to missions, improve monitoring and evaluation tools and processes, and adaptively manage a DC-based FSN Fellowship Program with feedback directly from FSN Fellows, among other uses.
Initially, all teams were cautious about the value of RAAR - however, after trying the approach, both operating units went on to request or initiate similar AARs themselves.
The Technology Division’s Knowledge and Insights team, which is part of the Innovation, Technology and Research Hub in the Development, Democracy and Innovation Bureau, began conducting RAARs of their signature, week-long training in March of 2018. As team members became more familiar with the format, they began to apply it to other workstreams as well. As of June 2021, the team has run RAARs more than 10 times, and incorporates RAAR findings into the adaptive management of trainings and fellowships. John O’Bryan, team lead, says:
“The beauty of the RAAR is that it’s not rocket science. It is a simple structured tool that walks you through ‘what went well, what didn’t, what can we change now, and what can we change further down the road.’ And once you get in a rhythm of conducting RAARs it becomes much easier to take those lessons and incorporate them into future activities.”
Challenges: The 1-hour timeframe of a RAAR limits the feedback participants can share, which might exclude comments that could be important for learning. Even with skillful facilitation, the conversation may be dominated by enthusiastic or powerful participants. If no one uses the action plan, it will not be useful. Ways to mitigate these limitations:
- Demonstrate value: If the facilitator can help the team make concrete, actionable decisions in the 1-hour RAAR meeting, participants may be willing to meet again to follow up on their plan.
- Make space for many voices: Hold multiple RAARs with different stakeholder groups - e.g., trainers as well as trainees; or technical office staff, M&E staff, and Program Office staff for a major mission process like Performance Plan and Report (PPR). Offer the opportunity for participants to write comments anonymously on sticky notes if they feel less comfortable sharing out loud.
- Use collaborative channels for feedback: Without making it a requirement, share a Google Doc before or after the meeting to collect feedback, or invite participants to email further comments.
- If any feedback is received before the meeting, make sure it is acknowledged in discussion.
- Edit history in Google Docs is not anonymous: several participants have noted that they prefer to have their thoughts documented without names by the facilitator for this reason.
- Plan for action: Choose a single due date for priority action points: a follow-up meeting can then be scheduled by that date to check in on what’s been completed and plan the next round of priorities. Use Google Calendar invites to remind team members of the due dates they’ve decided on and the actions they’ve committed to.
Christine is a Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning (MEL) Specialist. She has supported USAID bureaus and missions with knowledge management and monitoring & evaluation strategic planning since 2016. She is currently serving as a consultant to the Amazonia Regional Environmental Program to develop its multi-country event calendar.