As your non-profit organization moves quickly to respond to COVID-19, the first thought, naturally, is to focus on execution. However, it is equally critical to know if what you are doing is working, should be modified, or discontinued altogether. 

A powerful and practical tool to accomplish this is the After Action Review, which is a structured approach for reflecting on a task or project that a group has completed to identify strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement and can be done in as little as 15 minutes.

As your non-profit responds to ever changing needs, it’s important to capture what you have learned along the way. This will save you time in the future so that you don’t waste time reinventing the wheel or doing something that is simply ineffective. It also provides you an opportunity to celebrate your successes and leverage them in the future. 

An AAR is centered on four questions: 

  • What was expected to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • What can we learn from this?
  • What should we do next time

Who should participate in an AAR?

This AAR is for all teams who want to maximize learning from their work (ranging from one-time events to long-term projects).  Regardless of project outcomes, there are always successes to document and lessons to learn. In order to ensure all voices are heard, every team member involved in the project should attend the AAR.

When should teams conduct an AAR? 

Ideally, your team should conduct an AAR shortly after a project or program ends. The same approach can also be used with less structure or formality midway through a project if the work isn’t progressing as the team would like.

What time and resources do we need for an AAR?

Ideally, formal AARs are conducted with a facilitator who is not part of the team, while informal AARs can be led by a member of the team.  The time required to conduct an AAR varies. A formal review may take 1-2 hours. Informal AARs may be conducted in whatever time your team can allot. A conversation as short as 15 minutes might identify barriers to your progress and strategies to overcome them.

Whether in person or virtual, you’ll need a place to capture your team’s reflections, whether that be on chart paper (be sure to take a photo when you’re done), in a Word document, or even a Google document. Here is a downloadable template you can use! 

I hope the After Action Review proves to be useful for your team as you evaluate your work, whether you’re responding to COVID-19 or otherwise.