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Tips for Documenting Implementation Stories

Documenting implementation stories—to share country experiences, lessons learned, and recommendations—strengthens our collective knowledge around what works and what doesn’t when implementing evidence-based interventions in family planning. WHO/IBP Network and Knowledge SUCCESS recently published a series of 15 stories highlighting organizations’ experiences implementing High Impact Practices (HIPs) and WHO Guidelines and Tools in family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programming from around the world. We hope these tips will help others write their own stories.

“What do you wish you had known before starting this work?”

As countries move toward implementing and scaling up high-impact interventions, the need for documenting implementation stories and sharing knowledge becomes more apparent and more urgent. In order to support and encourage others to document and share their experiences, we’ve compiled this list of tips that we learned from documenting implementation stories about High Impact Practices (HIPs) and WHO Guidelines and Tools.

Things to Consider Before Getting Started

  • Read other stories for inspiration and ideas.
  • Identify:
      • The story you want to tell—what was unique about your experience and why is the topic important?
      • Your audience—who will be reading your story? What do they want to know?
      • The format—how does your audience prefer to engage with information?
      • Your goal—what do you want readers to do after engaging with your content?
  • Develop a template for your story. Include the key points that should be included in each section.
  • Create a spreadsheet. Track the required steps and develop a timeline to ensure you stay on target. Access an example tracker here.

Pro Tips

  • Documenting implementation stories takes time. Don’t underestimate how long you will need; always build in a buffer around your expected publication date.
  • If documenting someone else’s experience, consider providing a stipend to cover their time.
Options Consultancy Services Ltd Madagascar team | This image is from the "Removing Taxes for Contraceptives in Madagascar: Strategic Advocacy Leads to Increased Budget for Family Planning" | IBP Implementation Story by Options Consultancy Services Ltd .
Options Consultancy Services Ltd Madagascar team. This image is from the "Removing Taxes for Contraceptives in Madagascar: Strategic Advocacy Leads to Increased Budget for Family Planning," IBP Implementation Story by Options Consultancy Services Ltd.

Deciding What Content to Include

  • Title—choose a title that describes the who, what, and where of your story. Consider including unique details of your story that will catch people’s attention.
  • Background and context—set the scene for your story and describe the organizational or development challenge(s) that prompted you to document your experience.
  • The need for intervention—why was this activity implemented? What was the problem it aimed to address?
  • Implementation story—this is the most important part of the story. In your own words, describe how you implemented the intervention. What was the impact and what challenges did you face? Provide enough detail so that someone interested in implementing a similar intervention would have a roadmap to follow.
  • Impact—describe the impact the practice had on individuals and/or the community. Both quantitative and qualitative data are valuable, and we recommend that both be included when possible.
  • Challenges—note significant challenges the team faced when implementing the intervention. How did you overcome those challenges?
  • Lessons learned and recommendations—lessons and recommendations should be detailed enough so that others are able to integrate them into their work. A good starting point to identify which lessons to document is to ask yourself, “What do you wish you had known before starting this work?”

Pro Tips

  • Encourage people to open up about what didn’t work so others don’t make the same mistakes. Create a trusting environment and reiterate to participants that sharing their experiences has the power to shape and strengthen future FP/RH programs.
  • Be as specific as possible about what worked and what didn’t. Sometimes, the least expected actions—for example, purchasing a refrigerator to store certain medications—can greatly affect a program. If these specifics are shared, others implementing similar programs can learn and not have to reinvent the wheel. These unexpected details make your story unique, catch people’s attention, and inspire others to read the story and learn from it.
  • While background and data (for example, a country’s contraceptive prevalence rates) can be helpful, try to limit this section to only the most pertinent background data that will help readers understand your program. This will make your story more readable.
A group of ASHAs | This image is from the "Fixed-Day Static Approach: Informed Choice and Family Planning for Urban Poor in India" | IBP Implementation Story by Population Services International.
A group of ASHAs. This image is from the "Fixed-Day Static Approach: Informed Choice and Family Planning for Urban Poor in India," IBP Implementation Story by Population Services International.

You’re Ready to Publish

  • Copyedit the story. Ensure the content is as concise as possible, and keep jargon and acronyms to a minimum.
  • Use photos to help convey your message, put a face to your story, and show readers the context in which the story takes place. All photos should be taken with the consent of those featured, and the final product should include photo citations including the names of all subjects in the images, a short description, and the name of the photographer.
  • Think about format. Consider breaking up text with quotes, call-out boxes, images, or visualizations to increase readability.

Pro Tips

  • Include multiple reviewers. Consider having an external reviewer who is not at all familiar with the story review it before the copyediting process to make sure no clarifications need to be made for readers.
  • Allow for differences between stories. If publishing a collection, try to be as consistent as possible—but don’t sacrifice content so everything can be uniform. Allowing for differences among the stories can also help ensure the unique voice of each author shines through.
  • Weave in personal touches. Interviews can be helpful in documenting implementation stories. Including quotes from those interviews can make a final story more engaging. Always receive consent to use a quote, and—unless an interviewee wishes to remain anonymous—include the speaker’s name and affiliation in the final story. Quotes can also be a good way to include specific experiential knowledge and details about what worked or what didn’t.
Young girl, writing | USAID in Africa | Photo Credit: John Wendle, USAID
Young girl writing. USAID in Africa. Credit: John Wendle, USAID.

Promoting and Disseminating Your Story

  • Publish your story on your website, social media, LinkedIn, and other platforms.
  • Circulate the story among communities of practice, colleagues, and various listservs.
  • Translate the story into other languages so a broader audience is able to learn from your experience.
  • Tailor your content for different learning styles. Consider publishing your story in multiple formats (like audio or video) to reach a wider audience.

Pro Tips

  • Use free software, such as Canva, to create catchy visuals for social media.
  • If possible, publish the story in multiple languages from the beginning.

Documenting implementation stories and sharing your experiences can have a powerful impact on family planning and reproductive health programs. Strengthening our collective knowledge regarding what works and what doesn’t in program implementation can help advance our global efforts and improve lives.

Overall, be flexible, get creative, and have fun documenting and telling your story.

Anne Ballard Sara, MPH

Senior Program Officer, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Anne Ballard Sara is a Program Officer II at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, where she supports knowledge management research activities, field programs, and communications. Her background in public health includes behavior change communication, family planning, women’s empowerment, and research. Anne served as a health volunteer in the Peace Corps in Guatemala and holds a Master of Public Health from George Washington University.

Ados Velez May

Senior Technical Advisor, IBP, World Health Org

Ados is a Senior Technical Advisor at the IBP Network Secretariat. In that role, Ados provides technical leadership engaging the network member organizations on a variety of issues such as documenting effective practices in family planning, dissemination of high-impact practices (HIPs), and knowledge management. Prior to IBP, Ados was based in Johannesburg, as a regional advisor for the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, supporting a number of member organizations in Southern Africa. He has over 20 years of experience in international public health program design, technical assistance, management, and capacity building, focusing on HIV/AIDS and Reproductive Health.

Nandita Thatte

IBP Network Lead, World Health Organization

Nandita Thatte leads the IBP Network housed at the World Health Organization in the Department of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research. Her current portfolio includes institutionalizing the role of IBP to support the dissemination and use of evidence-based interventions and guidelines, to strengthen the linkages between IBP field-based partners and WHO researchers to inform implementation research agendas and foster collaboration among the 80+ IBP member organizations. Prior to joining WHO, Nandita was a Senior Advisor in the Office of Population and Reproductive Health at USAID where she designed, managed, and evaluated programs in West Africa, Haiti and Mozambique. Nandita has a MPH from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a DrPH in Prevention and Community Health from the George Washington University School of Public Health.

Carolin Ekman

Communications and Knowledge Management, IBP Network

Carolin Ekman works for the IBP Network Secretariat, where her main focus is on communications, social media and knowledge management. She has been leading the development of the IBP Community Platform; manages content for the network; and is involved in various projects related to storytelling, strategy and rebranding of IBP. With 12 years across the UN system, NGOs and the private sector, Carolin has a multidisciplinary understanding of SRHR and its wider impact on wellbeing and sustainable development. Her experience spans across external/internal communications; advocacy; public/private partnerships; corporate responsibility; and M&E. Focus areas include family planning; adolescent health; social norms; FGM; child marriage; and honour based violence. Carolin holds a MSc in Media Technology/Journalism from the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden, as well as a MSc in Marketing from Stockholm University, Sweden, and has also studied human rights, development and CSR in Australia and Switzerland.

Sarah V. Harlan

Partnerships Team Lead, Knowledge SUCCESS, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Sarah V. Harlan, MPH, has been a champion of global reproductive health and family planning for more than two decades. She is currently the partnerships team lead for the Knowledge SUCCESS project at the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. Her particular technical interests include Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) and increasing access to longer-acting contraceptive methods. She leads the Inside the FP Story podcast and was a co-founder of the Family Planning Voices storytelling initiative (2015-2020). She is also a co-author of several how-to guides, including Building Better Programs: A Step-by-Step Guide to Using Knowledge Management in Global Health.