COVID-19 After Action Review Toolkit

The COVID-19 pandemic created an extraordinary public health challenge, requiring state, local, Tribal and territorial public health agencies and their partners to mount emergency responses amid ever-changing information. As the pandemic progresses, it is critical for those working on COVID-19 response, recovery, and resiliency activities to reflect on what they have learned to better position themselves for ongoing COVID-19 work and future public health emergencies.

An After Action Review is a powerful tool that can help organizations reflect, assess, learn, and improve. Organizations can use the review retrospectively to assess previous work or activities, or it can serve as a useful tool to guide in-action reviews of ongoing work or activities. Mathematica, in collaboration with the Public Health Foundation, has developed a toolkit to help organizations conduct effective, equitable, and trauma-informed After Action Reviews.

Toolkit overview

This free toolkit focuses specifically on After Action Reviews that public health authorities and their partners can conduct to assess COVID-19 response, recovery, and resiliency work. This toolkit draws on trauma-informed and equitable approaches to planning, conducting, and following up after an After Action Review. The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on public health professionals, frontline health care workers, first responders, and the world at large, making a trauma-informed approach to After Action Reviews especially valuable. Moreover, the pandemic's disproportionate effects on communities of color requires an equitable approach to planning, conducting, and following up after the review to achieve the greatest impact.
What is an After Action Review?

An After Action Review is the process of gathering stakeholders for a directed discussion of three main questions:

  1. What was expected to happen during a certain activity or process?
  2. What actually happened and why?
  3. How can we learn from the experience and improve moving forward?

Why use this toolkit?

  • You are unfamiliar with After Action Reviews. You can use this toolkit as a primer; it includes detailed information on how to plan, conduct, and follow up after such reviews.
  • You are familiar with After Action Reviews but want more COVID-19 specific After Action Review guidance. You can use this toolkit as a resource to plan and conduct a review, and to follow up after a COVID-19-focused review. This toolkit also provides valuable advice on how to approach a COVID-19-focused After Action Review in a trauma-informed and equitable way.
  • You have to fulfill a requirement.  Guidance and resources provided in the toolkit support fulfilling requirements from various funding sources, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including the Public Health Emergency Preparedness exercise credit for COVID-19 response activities through submission of an after-action report or improvement plan documentation (as described in this August 2020 guidance).
  • You want to make meaningful improvements and build capacity and resiliency within your community. You want to use the results of your After Action Review to make positive changes that will strengthen your ability to respond, recover, and build resiliency during the current pandemic and beyond. This toolkit helps you plan and conduct an effective, equitable, and trauma-informed After Action Review that helps you identify appropriate and important next steps. It also provides information on trainings and other resources to help you make meaningful improvements moving forward.
Get Help

You can leverage this toolkit on your own, but when you work with an external partner, you ensure your reviews are thorough and objective. Mathematica and the Public Health Foundation can assist with expert planning and facilitation of After Action Reviews and with implementing follow-up activities. Get in touch with our experts to learn more about this toolkit and how we can work together to conduct your review and build resiliency into your organization.

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How to access the toolkit

Click on the sections below to explore the After Action Review toolkit.

Module 1

Planning the After Action Review

Planning an equitable, trauma-informed, COVID-19-focused After Action Review involves establishing a planning team, determining the objective of the review, deciding what COVID-19 topics and time frame to cover, choosing participants in a way that sets you up for an inclusive and effective discussion, and tackling meeting logistics—including considerations and tips for hosting a virtual discussion. This module guides you through each of these elements of the planning process.

Module 2

Conducting the After Action Review

Conducting a COVID-19 After Action Review effectively, equitably, and with a trauma-informed approach depends on a strong and fair facilitator to lead the discussion, active participation from all attendees, and documenting learnings in a report. This module provides guidance and tips for facilitating the review and formalizing learnings in a report.


Resources for building resiliency following the After Action Review

Following up on learnings when the After Action Review is complete is a critical step to ensure your organization can benefit from the learnings identified. This resource list includes links to trainings and other resources to support next steps in building resiliency.


Development of this toolkit was a collaborative effort. It was written by Tricia Collins Higgins, Kristie Liao, Megan Dormond, and Maani Stewart. Other contributors include, in alphabetical order, Amy Berridge, Ron Bialek (Public Health Foundation), Alyssa Crawford, Demetrius Goosbey, Bart Hook, Todd Kohlhepp, Michael Lightner, Jack Moran (Public Health Foundation), So O’Neil, Natalie Parra-Novosad, Alfonso Urquidi, and Robert Williams.