How do we document (and communicate!) our work when there’s so much other work to do?

Barbara Paes

Our Light Touch Support programme has been busy! In the second quarter of this year (April, May, June), we worked with 29 partners from 13 different countries. This post looks at some of the challenges organisations came to us with during this period, and what resources, tips and recommendations we offered them. (For further reading, you can find our reflections on the first quarter of 2023 here). 

Get Support

Our Light Touch Support (LiTS) programme offers lightweight, no-fee support to organisations and individuals who come to us with questions about using data or technology in their social justice work. In each LiTS partnership, our goal is to help our partners clarify their vision and identify next steps, in order to move forward independently. Learn more here.

Our 29 LiTS partners we supported in the second quarter of 2023 were based in 13 different countries, including Argentina, Brazil, Congo (DRC), Costa Rica, Haiti, Kenya, Mexico, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Zambia. They ranged from established nonprofits to community based organisations and collectives, working on issues such as transparency and accountability, human rights, environmental justice and health.

At the beginning of June we also especially invited Black feminist organisers to reach out to our LiTS programme. Since we launched this call-out we have connected with organisations led by Black women in Brazil, the US and Costa Rica doing incredible work to advance racial justice in their countries (if you are interested, learn more about this opportunity here!). 

Below are some of the challenges our LiTS partners have been grappling with. In the hopes that this post might be useful to groups facing similar issues, we’ve also included some of the tips and resources that we find can help in confronting these challenges. 

1. Documentation and comms 

Many of the organisations and collectives who joined LiTS via our proactive support offer to Black feminist organisations are doing work that is incredibly impactful, tending to urgent needs from their communities and defending Black women’s rights in their countries, and doing so with extremely limited funding.

The huge amount of work required, combined with pressing needs and limited resources, often means that these organisations don’t have enough time and resources to document the work they’re doing and to communicate it to their audiences in the way that they would like. 

We’ve been working with these partners to collectively think of strategies to tackle this challenge by strengthening existing (and creating new!) tech and data processes for documenting their work. Here are some of the main tips/considerations we share with partners:

  • GET SPECIFIC: One good place to start can be thinking in more detail about what our partners want to keep track of (and why!). Depending on the work, the activities and milestones an organisation might want to document may vary. For instance, for some organisations it can be important to keep track of how many people attend events they’re hosting; for other groups, it can be relevant to know how many people are reading and/or sharing the resources they’re publishing online; others may want to keep a record of the ways people are using the services they offer.
    • Some questions that can help with this process include: 
      • What data is essential about the organisations’ work? 
      • Years from now, when we’re telling the story of our work, what will we want to remember? 
      • What do our funders and supporters ask about? 
      • What is important for our community to know about us/our work?
  • START SMALL & KEEP THINGS ACCESSIBLE: Improving internal documentation isn’t something that happens overnight (and dedicating resources or people to documentation can also be difficult for under-resourced organisations). With our partners, we talk about the value of starting small, making it easy for team members to contribute, and building up a practice of documentation incrementally.
    • There are some practical (and relatively simple) actions that can help teams get started, including:
      • For some teams, it can be useful to have a dedicated space to informally keep track of the impact or results from their work! It can be a slack or mattermost channel, a specific group chat, or an online pad/document where the team documents comments they receive via email, at events or on social media, for example. At The Engine Room, for instance, we have our own channel on Mattermost where team members share #tinyvictories from our work!
      • Creating templates and/or surveys can make it easier for team members to document more about their work, for instance, by sharing short, concise surveys on Slack or Mattermost, or through forms in Google or in Nextcloud.
  • INTERNAL RETROSPECTIVES: Not waiting too long to look back and document the work orgs have been doing can also be a good move! At The Engine Room, every six months our team members complete a short survey asking them to share the highlights of their semester, a practice that helps us with building our annual report at the end of each year. We also do project retrospectives whenever we wrap up a project, which help us look back at the work we did and make sure learnings and impact go into our records. Other practices teams can explore include things like hosting “retrospective meetings” periodically, where teams go over recent activities together, document impact generated and identify any learnings or opportunities they want to share with their audiences. 

2. Bringing responsible data to research or advocacy efforts

We worked with quite a few partners working on different social justice issues who have identified significant gaps in data about the communities they were working with or about the issues they advocate for: from a lack of data about Black women’s experiences with the health system in certain Latin American countries to the non-existence of user friendly ways to find data about access to education in a Caribbean country.

One of the common challenges our partners have dealt with after deciding that they wanted to produce data themselves is not knowing how to start a research project or data collection project – and, relatedly, how to design a project responsibly. Here are some of our tips:

  • START BACKWARDS: An idea we often share is that before embarking on a research project or on a data collection initiative, it’s good for teams to collectively imagine and align on what they want the finished product to look like, and what outcomes they expect from it. This can lead to visualising the question they want answered or the data that would most support their work. Essentially, this is about getting specific about the issues organisations are working on and exploring how data can help them reach their goals. 
  • START SMALL: Organisations – especially grassroots organisations or informal collectives – can start by collecting data on just one issue, or by answering just one question. This can help organisations to be agile and test out whether an issue or a finding is useful for their work, and it can also be responsible (the less data we collect, the less data we have to keep safe!). 
  • THINK ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES: Another important step is considering how the people organisations are working with might be impacted (positively and negatively) by data that is collected. This reflection can impact tool selection, methodology, and choices around how data is shared. We have tons of resources on responsible data to support organisations in this process: make sure to check our tips on how to start your responsible data journey and our resource Becoming RAD!, for guidance on how to create a responsible process for retaining, archiving and deleting data.

For those interested in learning more, the first chapter of the Responsible Data Handbook goes deeper into the process of designing responsible projects – we highly recommend taking a look!

3. Ensuring digital resilience through practices based on care and security 

Another big area of support this past quarter was digital resilience! We worked with partners to support their ability as an organisation to protect themselves from – and respond to – digital security threats to ensure the wellbeing of its members/individuals, and to adopt infrastructures that respond to the ever-changing needs and contexts of the organisation and its members. 

During each of our LiTS partnerships, we develop a set of tailored recommendations to address the specific challenges our partners are facing. Here are some of the resources that we’ve been sharing with partners lately (and that other organisations may also be interested in!):

  • Prato do dia: an initiative from Transfeminist Digital Care Network inviting everyone to reflect on issues of digital care and providing alternatives for people to adopt healthier tech practices. Available in Portuguese, English and Spanish. 
  • Internews’ new digital security course for human rights and climate/environmental defenders in Spanish.
  • FRIDA Young Feminist Fund’s new Young Feminist Leadership Toolkit for organisers from West, East, Southern and Central Africa who are working for radical systemic change for LGBTQI+ people. It includes a chapter focused on digital security.
  • CyberPeace Builders’ offer of free digital security support to humanitarian and development NGOs to prepare for, defend against and recover from cyberattacks. 

Interested in working with us? Schedule a call with our team!

Image by ASTERISK KWON via Unsplash.


This site is registered on as a development site. Switch to a production site key to remove this banner.