I’m Maurya West Meiers. I work at the World Bank as a Senior Evaluation Officer and am coauthor of A Guide to Assessing Needs: Essential Tools for Collecting Information, Making Decisions, and Achieving Development Results (free World Bank book).
As the global community experiences COVID-19, there is much value in looking backwards as we plan ahead for our future activities such as programs, needs assessments, and evaluations. So today I’m writing with some thoughts and resources on conducting after action reviews (AARs) during and after a crisis, such as COVID-19.
I’m reminded of this great quote from Rahm Emanuel, former mayor of Chicago, former Democratic congressman from Illinois, and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2010.
If you are planning future needs, don’t let a crisis, such as COVID, go to waste. You and your organization are making many important decisions during this time. Collect real-time information during the crisis to inform those things that you can do differently or better than before. Do it now, or as soon as the crisis begins to subside. Transition from “playing defense” to proactively learning and apply strategic insights to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, why, what we can do better, and so on. AARs focus on problem-solving and decision-making, hopefully to lead to organizational learning and actions that will have better performance and results in the future.
AARs were developed and popularized by the US Army in the 1970s, building on early approaches from the US military. Over the years, all sorts of organizations have adopted and adapted AARs for their own uses, with Shell Oil being one well known example. AARs usually respond to a general question (“How did we do?”) by answering these (and other) more specific questions:
- What were the intended results?
- What were the actual results?
- What caused the results?
- What will we sustain or improve?
In carrying out your AARs, there are a range of quantitative and qualitative approaches for you to use to support the review – such as interviews, surveys, focus groups, administrative data reviews, and among many others. Below I present some resources to guide you in developing AARs and to learn how other agencies use AARs. Be sure to consider implementing AARs so you can learn during and from a crisis.
- Foundations of the After Action Review Process, Institute for Defense Analyses (1999)
- Learning in the Thick of It, Harvard Business Review (2005)
- BetterEvaluation’s page on AARs
- Adaptation of the US Army’s After-Action Review for Simulation Debriefing in Healthcare, Simulation in Healthcare, The Journal of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare (2013)
The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Needs Assessment (NA) TIG Week with our colleagues in the Needs Assessment Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NA TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.