Documentation is the process of writing down and cataloging critical information for the purpose of transparency and to ensure that information is preserved and made available to more people.

How to Document

Documentation can seem a low priority and beyond reach to time-strapped harm reduction leaders constantly navigating what can feel like a crisis rollercoaster. But NOT doing it will cost the agency even more time and energy in the long run. Without documentation, critical information gets lost. Not having access to key information can be literally catastrophic in the event of an unplanned succession.

So, how does a busy leader find time for something they really do not even want to do? To begin…

Do Not Be Embarrassed

Here is an open secret: nearly everyone in harm reduction is behind on some form of documentation, and this can become a real source of anxiety to many. Relax, you are in good company!

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The Ready4Change team has prepared a series of spreadsheets you are encouraged to use to help track critical information about passwords, vendors, grants and even community relationships based on the best practices and suggestions of the many stakeholders consulted for this project,. In addition, we have included many other templates for a variety of kinds of documentation. Check out the Tools and Resources sections and learn to use tools like Google Advanced Search to get to specific formats (such as .docx, .xlxs, .txt etc.) that you can modify for your needs.
Documentation is a love letter that you write to your future self.
Damian Conway

What to document

Leaders identified the following areas requiring essential documentation for transitions. The Tools section offers spreadsheets to help track them.

  • PASSWORDS – This is the MOST critical information that people will need in the event of any transition, especially when the former leader becomes unavailable.
  • Relationships/history – Tracking the nature, history and details of the organization’s relationships can provide crucial insights to new leaders.
  • Vendors – Regularly tracking and updating the vendors your organization works with is essential.
  • Contracts/Grants – Track essential information like the grantor, deadlines, program officer or grant monitor and deliverables.
  • Cross training – Document staff and volunteer cross training.
  • Strategic plans and SWOT analyses – Any written analysis of future plans should be included.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed/Make it Incremental

Do not overwhelm yourself by deciding that you are going to do nothing but documentation for a full day or a week. For some lucky few this may be a relaxing idea but for most of us, especially those of us who thrive on the chaos of harm reduction, it is akin to watching paint dry. And, if we’re being honest, tantamount to admitting we will never do it.

Instead, pick an incremental, and sustainable, amount of time – maybe 30 minutes – and commit to doing it on a schedule such as daily, weekly, etc. If 30 minutes sounds like a lot, try for ten. As with all things harm reduction, BETTER IS BETTER and some change is better than none. Like any habit change, over time it will get less overwhelming and, best yet, there will become less and less to do.

Set a Timer

Use a timer to help you manage your incremental documenting window. One evidence-based method is the Pomodoro method, which has lots of apps and other tools available for free.


If you are working with people to whom you can delegate some of your documentation, do it. This may require a verbal download or simply showing someone where to find the information to transcribe. It is important to take advantage of your team. Not only does it lighten your workload, it also increases transparency, builds trust and, in the end, eases change.


Documentation is not fun for most of us and can easily slip to the very bottom of your to-do list, somewhere below “Do a full Google Earth deep dive on the country of Paraguay”. Do not fall into this trap. Documentation is a gift to your future self and your agency’s well-being, and it is essential for successful successions.

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. 

James Baldwin
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