Postcards to the future: A versatile tool for upgrading your project’s monitoring and assessment activities



Author: Konstantinos Vadratsikas

Published: February 17, 2023


Designing and implementing evaluation activities often requires a touch of surprise, something that people do not expect, in order to capture their attention and elicit their spontaneous reactions. This was one of our main concerns, when we were tasked with designing an evaluation activity for the AfriConEU Brokerage event – held in Bologna, Italy on November 2-3 2022.

The AfriConEU project aims at empowering Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) by developing the first Trans-continental Networking Academy for DIHs. Two flagship programmes are implemented by the Academy, focusing on raising the capacity of DIHs to overcome challenges and establishing partnerships for joint action, respectively. The AfriConEU Transcontinental partnership programme, which was the trigger for writing this article, aims at engaging African and European DIHs, enterprises, investors etc and providing them with practical ways to connect, collaborate and form strategic connections and joint projects. During the AfriConEU Brokerage event, European and African actors came together and participated in a series of networking and matching activities with the purpose of establishing new partnerships, developing common projects and identifying new opportunities for expanding their businesses.

Within this context, our mission was to collect quality (and qualitative) feedback on the participants’ experience, as well as to deploy a strategy for tracking the long-term impacts and outcomes of the Brokerage event, while encouraging participants to be actively engaged and think creatively. This final element added an additional layer of complexity to our task, hence the deployment of innovative evaluation tools, that go beyond the typical questionnaire/ evaluation form, seemed like the best way to go. In our pursuit for creative tools, we came across the “Postcard to your future self” activity and got immediately hooked by its versatility. It was, indeed, an unexpected revelation, as the postcard tool seemed to offer an adaptability that made it appropriate for a diverse range of conditions and objectives. In our case, asking our participants to write a postcard to their future selves allowed us to collect a significant volume of qualitative data, while it gave us a perfect “excuse” to follow up after a few months, while remaining compliant with GDPR requirements. And they had a great time too!

This is the reason why it felt important to write an article that reviews some of the main advantages of using a “Postcard to your future self” as an evaluation tool, as well as a few tips for designing and implementing a Postcard evaluation activity for your projects.


Why “Postcard to the future self”?


In a nutshell, because it is such a flexible tool that can be used for a wide range of objectives. More specifically, we identified some key uses related to monitoring and evaluation, which are outlined below.



Boost creativity

Writing a postcard to your future self can be a really insightful exercise, as it asks participants to think ahead and imagine how the future will look like, based on their own expectations and aspirations. Without the constraints of “reality”, participants can let their imaginations run wild, think big and come up with out-of-the-box ideas, in a manner that is not common with typical evaluations tools


Time machine

Receiving a postcard from themselves months, or even years, after it was written, can be a tangible reminder of their experience for the future. This way participants can carry something they felt, learnt or expected from the event in the future with them, allowing them to make comparisons of their current condition, beliefs and aspirations with the past, and see how things have evolved since writing it.


Reality check

The process of writing a postcard to oneself can be a perfect exercise for building self-awareness. Participants are asked to review their current condition and, through this retrospective process, they inevitably become more conscious of what they are doing and why. From that perspective, Postcard activities can serve as a reality check, where participants are asked essential questions about themselves allowing them to assess whether they are moving on the right direction for achieving their goals. This kind of activity encourages participants to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, clarify what their goals are and review what they have achieved so far.


A nice excuse for following up

One common concern when designing evaluation interventions, is how to assess long-term impacts of an activity, as some events’ outcomes may take a long time to materialize. In such occasions, a postcard to the future can serve as a good opportunity to legitimately reach out to the participants and ask for extra feedback. So, along with the postcards, make sure you send to the participants a short questionnaire with a few follow-up questions, exploring whether they have achieved the objectives they set or their expectations have been met.


It is good for the soul!

Besides the “Postcard to the future self” activities practical advantages, analyzed above, there are plenty of psychological benefits from implementing this kind of evaluation tools. Most importantly, it is a smart way to avoid adding up to the fatigue participants feel from responding to questionnaires, polls and other commonly used evaluation tools, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic.  On the contrary, postcards are fun as, free from the constraints of their current condition, people feel respected and are more motivated to complete the task, while receiving the postcard is in itself rewarding. Moreover, the task stimulates positive visions of the future and increases the likelihood of people achieving their goals.


Tips for implementing a “Postcard to the future self” activity


There are many ways to design a Postcard activity, depending on its purpose and specific objectives. Several variations may come up, according to the questions participants are called to answer, at what stage of the project the activity is implemented, what you are trying to measure and what format will be used for the postcards. Postcard activities can be used to facilitate project planning, to refine expectations and objectives, to evaluate an event’s quality or to track its long-term impacts. For the AfriConEU Brokerage event, out goals were to understand which are the main lessons participants acquired from attending, and to be able to follow up and track the event’s outcomes, several months later.

For this purpose, we designed an online form where participants would choose an image for their postcard and respond to a few questions related to their aspirations and personal objectives. Using a python script, we then compiled the participants’ responses into postcards, which they will receive a few months later along with a questionnaire exploring whether they have achieved the goals they set for their future selves.

If you are thinking of using a postcard activity for one of your projects, make sure you are clear of what you are trying to achieve and design it accordingly. Choose carefully the questions you will be asking participants to respond to. Involve your participants in their postcard design, and make it fun and specific. Finally, make sure to give the participants clear instructions to resist restricting themselves, to take their time and not rush it, and to be kind and encouraging to their future selves. After all, we are all responsible of what we become!