A guide for rolling out ActivityInfo in 4 steps

Introducing a new system, tool or software to your colleagues and partners can be a challenging task. Resistance to change, lack of advocates and limited knowledge sharing channels are some of the hindering factors that can slow down or even halt the adoption of the new venture.

ActivityInfo is a software that allows you to bring a complete information management system to life so as to manage the complete data lifecycle for your organization, programs or projects. When starting out it is important to approach the plan for the adoption of the system taking key aspects of change management into consideration. From getting to know in depth the stakeholders involved to identifying champions and recruiting allies and from maintaining open lines of communication to celebrating wins there are various small steps you can take to ensure a successful implementation.

In this article, we present 4 steps along with recommended key tasks to help you roll out ActivityInfo or any other new system in your organization. If you prefer a video presentation on this subject, you can watch the recording of the Webinar “Introducing ActivityInfo to your team”.

You can also read this article in French or Spanish.

Step 1: Assessment

In this first step, you should aim to get a complete understanding of the state of data management in your organization. You should define what the baseline is and identify the pain points that the Program, M&E and Information Management officers face when they work with data. Once you have all the necessary information, organize it so that you orient yourself towards a way forward to designing your system.

Key tasks for Step 1:

  • Consult stakeholders: Schedule individual interviews with people who can provide useful insights on data management challenges. Learn what they would like to see in the new system and prompt them to reveal the most important pain points.
  • Review existing documentation: Take a look at existing workflows, process maps, documents with roles and responsibilities, reports, results frameworks or logframes and any other document that can give you a sense of what data exists and how the data should be linked and flow inside your organization. This will help you get a sense of the baseline in your organization and can support the next task.
  • Measure the baseline: Find the baseline figures; identify those key indicators that you would like to change as part of this system. Think of the figures that you would like to compare before and after the implementation of the system. Some examples could be the time you need to create a report for a donor, the number of errors in a report before and after the system’s implementation, etc. It is helpful to capture these metrics and compare them with the numbers after you put the system in place.
  • Determine your readiness for change: You might need to complete other tasks before being ready to roll out the new system. For example, you might need to ensure that the necessary staff capacity to utilize such a system exists or that there are structures in place to facilitate new workflows as part of the new database. Detect what kind of tasks need to happen first before you launch the new system and plan ahead for them.
  • Determine resource requirements: Think of resources in terms of time, costs, personnel both internally and externally. Note down everything that will be needed to operationalize the new system. Think of what you have available in terms of staff but also note external resources that you could draw on. For example, in ActivityInfo we provide a lot of documentation and webinars in addition to support and optional onboarding.

Key outputs:

  • Detailed requirements: Following the tasks above, you will end up with a list of tasks and actions. It is recommended that you prioritize these as resources are finite and should be allocated to what is more important to the success of the implementation.
  • Work plan for implementation: Then, a detailed work plan with information on who should be responsible for which tasks along with a schedule on when certain activities should be implemented will help you launch the system in the timings needed by stakeholders.

Step 2: Design

In this step, you can take some time to think about the requirements of the system and turn them into reality. At this stage, you can start building the databases and reports in ActivityInfo.

Key tasks for Step 2:

  • Technology: At this step, you can start configuring the actual database. Watch the webinar Database design principles to get started.
  • Process: Think of the procedures that go together with using the new database. Start documenting how they should look.
  • People: Think about the structures that should surround the database; who are the people involved in the different steps of the workflow, their roles and responsibilities. It could be that the previous roles and structures are well-defined and still relevant to the new system but in some cases a drastic change might be needed and you should identify how structure and roles will be changing.
  • Alignment, validation and testing: Make sure that what you’ve built meets the needs of the stakeholders and is aligned with other procedures that your organization currently has. Note all relevant touchpoints with other functional areas in the organization, such as finance, legal, IT etc. Then, validate that what you are building meets the needs you identified in the first step. Test the forms and reports you build with potential users to make sure that the data looks as expected.
  • Monitoring usage of resources: In the first step, you identified the resources needed, in this step you should be monitoring how many resources you have remaining. Make sure to flag early on cases where you consume these faster than anticipated or when you anticipate shortage. For example, you might need more people to help you finish the configuration of the database or you might need to add more users to your subscription. Detect these moments early on and raise them to the relevant decision-makers who can reallocate or unlock more resources for you.

Key output:

  • A functional system ready for launch.

Step 3: Launch

This is the actual launch of the system you’ve built. In this step, you introduce the new system to your team and invite stakeholders to start using it.

Key tasks for Step 3:

  • Internal launch event: This is an internal session to which you invite the end users of the new system in order to introduce how it’s going to be used within the organization.
  • Training and onboarding sessions: Instruct end users about how to use the system based on the workflows you defined. You might need a series of sessions targeted at different user groups, program or functional areas, So you might need a more comprehensive training program for every type of session that needs to happen.
  • Dissemination of resources: This is going to be useful for the end users as they start using the system. You can develop guides for certain workflows, cheat sheets, manuals, links to the ActivityInfo documentation, etc. Make sure to disseminate these widely. Take a look at the articles “Tips for effective capacity development” for some inspiration.
  • Pilot/phased rollout: We highly recommend doing a pilot in the beginning, especially in cases of larger organizations and teams where the system is implemented in the whole organization. There’s a lot of value in running a pilot because you can mitigate risks and contain issues that might arise. You will also get early learnings and you can apply these to the more general rollout in the whole of the organization. In the pilot, make sure to include a variety of cases/projects/teams so as to have a representative sample. Take a look at this Case Study where we examine the pilot implemented by ACDI/VOCA before the wider implementation of ActivityInfo to gain more insights on this kind of activity.
  • General rollout: Once you are ready, apply the learnings and insights you gained to the wider implementation of the new system across the organization. Watch the session “Making M&E work at global level” during which ACDI/VOCA and IREX, two large organizations who have rolled out ActivityInfo across the whole organization, talk about the challenges and solutions of the wider implementation.

Key output:

  • Staff is empowered to use the new system

Step 4: Adoption

Step 4 takes place during the period after the formal launch of the new system. The end users are actively using the system at this stage which means that they add records to forms, they check or create reports and so on. We recommend that you implement a period of ‘hyper-care’ in the first couple of months following the launch. During this period, make sure to have an elevated level of attention to complaints and feedback and to be available for providing support to end-users. Make sure to respond to questions and concerns in a timely manner.

Key tasks for Step 4:

  • Monitor usage and collect feedback: Check that data is added to the system in the frequency you defined. Talk with the end users, collect feedback and ask how the experience has been in using the system. Keep an eye for parallel or legacy systems that remain in place.
  • Evaluate achievement of objectives: Take a look at the baseline and the key objectives you set for yourself and the system in step 1. Evaluate whether and the extent to which you have achieved these. This will give you a better understanding of where you stand.
  • Troubleshoot issues and make necessary adjustments: It is very likely that the system you rolled out is not perfect. That’s not a problem as ActivityInfo is a flexible tool that can adapt and evolve according to your needs. You can make adjustments to the databases, forms and reports if necessary.
  • Communicate results: Make a list of all the accomplishments you and your team achieves thanks to the new system. Communicate the progress you’ve made, such as for example the time needed to produce reports, the data quality, the type of insights you get access to. Ensure that all stakeholders know that the system is working. If it’s not working make sure to communicate the roadblocks you encountered so as to get the support you need to resolve any issues.

Key output:

  • Sustained usage of the system according to expectations

Common pitfalls and mitigation strategies

To complete this guide, we would like to list some of the most common pitfalls you might encounter during this process along with the mitigation strategies you can implement.

  • Lack of leadership support: If you don't have the support of a leader inside the organization, it can become hard to win the hearts and minds of people resisting the change. Mitigation strategy: Identify a senior sponsor in your organization. Their support to the system should involve them expressing their support for the project, advocating towards your vision or even allocating the resources needed to implement the change.
  • Doing it alone: You might feel confident that you can do everything on your own but the challenges of adopting a new system can quickly become overwhelming. Mitigation strategy: Assemble a working group who can speak on your behalf and spread the benefits of the new system.
  • Aiming for perfection: You might spend hours and days to create the perfect system and people might get weary of waiting for the official launch of what you are building. Mitigation strategy: Create a safe space, pilot and iterate quickly to give yourself the flexibility to launch something less than perfect to get some data points as to what works. Take a look at this video on Agile M&E for some inspiration.
  • Lack of information sharing: This is a common pitfall. Without people knowing why you are doing what you are doing and what the expectations are, people might resist. Mitigation strategy: To address this create a communication plan with clear key messages for your stakeholder groups and have a plan in place as to when you will send these messages and via what channels you will share it. For example, you can utilize some email blasts and or messages in the chat in your organization. It helps having multiple channels to get your message across.
  • Inaccessible support: You don't want to leave anyone frustrated in the process of using the system and this can happen if there is nobody there to help them when they encounter an issue.
    Mitigation strategy: Establish support channels, especially during the first weeks after the launch. Create different channels across different media based on how your organization works (e.g. a dedicated email address, chat rooms, etc.) Assign key people in your team who will be responding to this kind of questions.

Following these 4 steps you are ready to introduce a new system, and more specifically ActivityInfo to your team! If you still feel like you need our support in doing so, never hesitate to contact us to discuss our onboarding options.