Reports Worth Reading: an Introduction

In Student Affairs, we all deal in the reflection process, almost on a daily basis. It’s intrinsic to the very work we do; it is the work we do. We teach students how to reflect upon their accomplishments, experiences, and knowledge in order to understand their selves and their world. We know the reflection process is, regardless of how you do it, important to finding the whole you. And we know that to be effective you must be personal and vulnerable, unafraid to look what you learn straight in the eye and engage with it.

So, why, when we complete a project, and it’s time to invest in the reflection process, do we ignore our own advice and write soulless reports?

I exaggerate—a bit—but I’ve written a few reports as a professional, and if you’ll allow me to be bold: I think they’re a waste of time and effort.

A report isn’t about the reflection process (though we often try to make it that way); a report is about capturing and recording data, and presenting it (ideally) in a way that is pleasing (though, most often, not). Reports feel cold to me, like we’ve completely scooped out the human element, focusing instead on the hard data, the quantifiable number bits that add up to more numbers that we then treat like real people and act accordingly, if we act at all. Too often, reports are looked at once (maybe) by our boss (hopefully) and then filed away (in the hopes that they’ll be referred to at a later date when what we “learned” becomes important again). But we never do, and that’s a shame.

See, I believe in what we want a report to do, I just don’t think they’re doing it particularly well. We want honest, thoughtful, human reflection that lets us understand our work, to improve and grow it. We want to share stories. And, I hope, we want engagement with what we’ve learned.

So I have a proposition for you, RyersonSA (and beyond). A little idea that involves embracing a new medium to present our reflections and allows us to share our findings with our colleagues in a way they’ll want to read, while also providing access to an organic conversation, too.

I introduce to you: the blog article.

Yes, that’s right, I’m suggesting we replace our weekly, monthly, yearly reports with blog articles. It may seem like a self-serving way to generate content for the #RyersonSA blog, but hear me out. Think of the website not as the end goal, but the medium through which we can present our end goal.

I believe when we think differently about the process, we think differently about the results. By saying aloud, “My project is over, and now I’m going to write a blog about the experience to share with my colleagues” you will create something very differently than if you were to sit down and say, “Now it’s time to capture my data in a report.”

I started out by calling this project Blog, Don’t Report, but that felt a little harsh and aggressive. I racked my brain for days to capture the idea in a better way, until Hamza Khan offered a suggestion I immediately fell for: Reports Worth Reading. Because that’s exactly what I want to do—teach myself and others how to craft a report that is worth our time to read, something that not only considers its audience but engages with them, opening a line of communication to this new knowledge that can be reflected on, not just by the owner, but by all interested parties. And the best part? People will want to read your piece. They’ll read what you craft, remember it, and along the way have fun doing it!

What It Is About:

  •      Storytelling.
  •      Reflection.
  •      Transparency (being candid; being vulnerable).
  •      Collaboration (with your audience; for example, through comments).
  •      Presenting your information in an entertaining way that people want to read.

What It Is Not About:

  •      Writing an old style report and posting it online (leave your PDFs at home).
  •      Just recording data.
  •      Abandoning stats, assessment results, hard data, etc.*

*NOTE: I love stats. Love them! I’m enthralled with the stories that numbers can tell us. I just think there is a proper way to present those stories, without burying people in hard data. And the data can always be included, in its raw form, in a downloadable Appendix document.

Why Do It?

  •      To create an assessment format that is, in the words of John Austin, “Good & Different.”
  •      To share your results in a format people want to read; one they will enjoy, and remember.
  •      To share your results in a format people understand (i.e. anyone without a background in assessment and numbers.)

I’m not expecting everyone that reads this to believe in my idea, and I most definitely don’t expect you to jump both feet off the pier without at least watching me go first. So I gathered a crack team of SA professionals from across RyersonSA and convinced (read: tricked?) them into helping me out. I shared my plan, and worked with each of them to craft an idea into an outline into an article. They dug deep into their work and got reflective, honest, vulnerable, clever, and at times, downright inspiring. We experimented, trying different ways to present different material.

Over the next four days I invite you to share in what they’ve created, to experience Phase 1 of Reports Worth Reading and to let us know what you think.

At the end of the week, I’ll share my thoughts in another piece about what I’ve learned along the way. (Spoiler alert: it was a lot!) And later in the summer, we’ll begin Phase 2.

You probably still have questions about my idea; so do I. This is a learning experience for me, too, and to be honest—I’m not sure what the end result will be. It may not work; it may be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But, one way or the other, I’m going to find out—because our work in Student Affairs at Ryerson isn’t about maintaining the status quo. It’s about experimenting, trying new ideas, learning, and attempting to make our work tomorrow continuously better than it was today. I believe that Reports Worth Reading can improve the work we do, that we can make a blog do everything a report should do—and more!

Phase 1 (May 4–8, 2015)

Finding The Piece That Fits: Career Consulting In The Faculty Of Science

by Rebecca Dirnfeld
Tuesday May 5, 2015

A reflective look at one element of a Rebecca’s job portfolio over the past year.

Exploring New Paths: Overcoming Challenges When Hiring Student Staff

by Tiffany Tam
Wednesday May 6, 2015

Tiffany reflects on the success of a particular administrative process (one that has failed in previous years).

The Year-End Rapport

by Sarah Kloke
Thursday May 7, 2015

A reflective look at Sarah’s personal approach to relationship building within their role.

Postcard Report: Health Data So Darn Awesome It Sings

by Gaya Arasaratnam
Friday May 8, 2015 (morning)

An experiment in what we’re calling a “postcard report,” Gaya zooms in on one particular piece of information from a larger report to discuss its value and worth to the unit and students.

A Reflective Look At Reports Worth Reading

by Lucas Gobert
Friday May 8, 2015 (afternoon)

My own reflection on phase 1 of Reports Worth Reading. What we learned; what worked, what didn’t; where do we go from here?