Can you smell the yak?

By Morgan Johnson | 18 February 2020

How to get the right stories and vignettes to support your technical approach

You’ve done your homework. You know about this proposal, about the technical area, about the country and the local context. You’ve worked with the right subject matter experts, both local and global, and you’ve come up with the best possible approach for this proposal.

You’ve put your team together – you have a great Chief of Party, your list of preferred consultants is top notch. Everything is in place and good to go.

But how do you get that extra touch of local flavor that shows your team really knows what’s happening on the ground? How do you provide the real narrative the overarching story that shows how your technical approach is going to solve this particular problem in this particular country?

You need real-life anecdotes to provide weight and immediacy to what you’re proposing 

Why do SME’s in Lebanon have a hard time exporting their products and getting connected with other markets? What has that meant for individual companies and their ability to grow and hire more people?

What happens to children and youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo when they don’t have access to the right educational opportunities? What has been preventing those opportunities to date? What prevented young Daniel or little Phiona from those opportunities and what happened to them because they weren’t able to participate in the right programs?

How do you get these anecdotes and vignettes?

To get these stories, you need to speak with experts on the ground who are doing the work. It’s that simple. These real-life stories are why development professionals are in this business in the first place – to support the struggling SME and to provide opportunities for at-risk youth, to protect local communities, and to get mothers and children connected to quality healthcare. It’s about the individual stories.

But sometimes it’s easy to forget those stories and focus on numbers, on data and statistics, on win-rates and cost-benefits. It’s easy to be over-confident in past experience and forget that proposals are not about getting new contracts and awards, but about solving real problems for real people around the world.

Not all experts have Phds

In many cases, the best experts aren’t the people with Phds in a certain technical area who have supported USAID or DFID projects around the world for the past 50 years. The best experts are the people on the front lines – the nurses who have worked in the hospitals and health clinics for their whole careers; the farm managers who have to deal with how climate change affects their crop yields; the social workers and teachers who work with at-risk youth day in and day out.

How do their stories and their realities factor in to your proposal? And just as importantly, how do you connect with them to hear their stories and experiences in the first place?

Here’s a few examples of questions that OnFrontiers teams have asked experts on the front lines:

To a nurse in Tajikistan:

  • What are the main challenges in providing maternal and child health care in Tajikistan? 
  • Do you have any specific stories which demonstrate why this is difficult and what the challenges are?

To a social worker in Mozambique:

  • Which populations are the most vulnerable to violent extremism recruitment in northern Mozambique? 
  • Do you have any examples of specific cases which show why these groups are particularly vulnerable?

To a renal nurse in Kenya

  • What are the dialysis treatment options currently available in Kenya? 
  • Can you share examples of how different factors ( cost, location accessibility and private vs NHIF payer) have affected patients seeking treatment?

To a commercial farm manager in Tanzania

  • How do the current government regulations affect your business in value-added beef and poultry products?
  • Are there any deals/ opportunities you were unable to pursue because of these regulations?

To a community conservation manager in Congo-Brazzaville

  • How has the timber exploration and palm oil culture expansion negatively affected specific communities in the Republic of the Congo?