What is a shadow report? Who takes the trouble to make one and why would they do that?
To start with the most important question according to Simon Sinek, why; NGOs and networks do this because they want to make this world a better place. They want to help improve laws, policies and their implementation and enforcement.
The form they use in this case, the how, is that of a shadow report. This report is prepared by one or more NGOs having relevant expertise and experience in the field concerned. A shadow report is usually a “reply” or “reaction” to a government report on the topic. In the frame of many international treaties governments are obliged to report on a regular basis on progress of implementation. This is for instance the case regarding the global Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), where states that have ratified the Convention have to report every 4 years on the situation in their country. But also the European Union thrives on reports by its Member States. In the field of rural development, Member States have to report annually on ongoing evaluation activities and to submit ex ante, mid-term and ex post evaluations of rural development programming for which European funds were used.
These are just two examples of the many out there. An important difference is, that in the case of the CEDAW there is a widespread practice of NGOs submitting shadow reports, even though they may have been involved in preparations for the official government report. In the case of European rural development programme reports and evaluations this practice seems to be mostly absent. In theory the reason for this could be that governments are urged to involve stakeholders in all steps of the programming cycle.
A shadow report fills gaps in the official report, shows alternatives and provides an NGO perspective. Even if some of the NGOs’ perspectives are included in the official report, there may still be valid reasons to additionally prepare and submit a shadow report.
So what then is the added value of a shadow report? Through providing another perspective and additional data and case studies, such report can contribute to increased involvement of relevant stakeholders and the wider public in the issues addressed and to a broader basis of support for the laws, policies or programmes concerned. Recommendations formulated by NGOs, representing stakeholders’ points of view, can if adopted lead to improved effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of government interventions. And in the long term such reports contribute to improved transparency and accountability of states both towards their own citizens and towards the international community of which they are part.
Below you will find tips, background materials and links used during a training on shadow reporting for the Croatian rural development network HMRR.
A few tips
- Start with a clear vision on the aims of the report, the addresses(s) and how you want the report to be used
- Make a clear connection between your report and the law, policy or programme concerned, by following the structure of those documents (linking clearly to chapters, articles, etc): Don’t make the readers who have to undertake action into treasure hunters first!
- Start with an executive summary
- Keep the report short (maximum 50 pages, preferably even less). Move your databases to the annexes
- Be clear on who is addressed and for what purpose
- Formulate clear, concise and practical recommendations that can be used directly
- Focus on your expertise. Your report does not need to be comprehensive
- Explain the methods you used and the steps taken to prepare the shadow report
- Use facts and cases
- Include best (NGO) practices
- Use visual tools like graphs, pictures, etc
- Mention your sources (and make sure they are reliable)
Guides and examples
Links to sources and materials used during training Shadow Reporting for HMRR, Croatia