People with otherwise interesting personalities can churn out pages of eye-watering, dull material when they compose a progress report.

These are the kinds of reports that organizations distribute either internally or publicly to update employees, stakeholders and the rest. They are often unreadable and go unread.

To test how many were reading, one division head at an environmental organization buried an aside near the end of his 60-page technical report: “Tell me you read this and I will buy you a beer.” A month after distributing it to more than 200 people, he owed only one drink.

“Written reports in general are not read,” says Ned Breslin, director of the water and sanitation development organization Water for People. “We know that. So, the question we’ve been asking for the last year is, ‘if nobody reads it, why are we doing this?'”

In response, Breslin is trying to scrap print. Instead, he reports by video. He combines still photography and visual data with voice overs and uploads the videos to Vimeo. Then he simply distributes a link and a password to protect privacy.

Breslin has shared his latest update with us to show us how it’s done. He made this video in iMovie. It took him 1.5 hours, and part of that time was spent learning the software.

Five Things I Learned in Honduras from Water For People.

Advantages

In Breslin’s experience, visual reports take less time to create, less time to translate into other languages, and much less time for people to consume and understand. And feedback comes back faster. “I sense that people like the format and seem to take it in better,” Breslin says.

Disadvantages

Among the tradeoffs is that it’s hard for departments that deal with the outside world to use video reports in their communications. Donors, for example, don’t accept progress reports on Vimeo. Yet.

The bottom line

Unreadable reports promote inefficiency at best. At worst, they threaten transparency by hiding information in plain sight. Video may be a solution. We’ll keep an eye on Water for People’s experiment.

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