Megan Campbell November 2, 2016

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Feasible. It’s a pragmatic word, practical and unassuming. Aspiring to feasibility is to reach for concrete ground ahead rather than for the stars. Aiming for feasibility is not an audacious goal. But 140 feedback champions who work in aid, governance and philanthropy rallied around feasibility at the 2016 Feedback Summit held last Thursday and Friday in Washington, DC. And then over a hundred more champions gathered at the first ever London Summit this past Tuesday November 1st to dive into what it takes to close feedback loops in their work. They demonstrated that feasible goals can be inspiring.

Usually the energy and commitment that was on display at the Feedback Summits would have me dreaming big. And in fact I walked away from the two Summits with a million thoughts I’m looking forward to exploring with the Feedback Labs community. But the one I want to focus on here is that I am starting to think that what the feedback movement needs is to dream small for a while. That might sound defeatist, but to me it’s exciting. My hypothesis is that we’ll get further, more quickly, if we start by putting small decisions at the center of feedback loops rather than aiming to affect big changes in our strategy and approaches right off the bat.

What I heard and learned at the two Feedback Summits crystallized one thought: at its core, feedback is simply an invitation to a conversation between constituents and the people who seek to serve them. It’s both that simple and that profound.

But these profound conversations require practice. Let’s take a look at how we interact with each other in our own lives. The conversations I have personally valued the most – the life-altering and life-affirming conversations – are hugely meaningful, and often rather difficult to initiate, much less act upon. I didn’t have the ability to dive into those deep discussions with my best friends, or even my family, right off the bat. We first built the trust, mutual understanding, and skills we needed in order to truly hear and respond to each other through a hundred unassuming, unambitious conversations. We built up a history of successfully navigating the shallows before we trusted each other enough to dive deep.

I wonder if the same dynamic would enable us to incorporate feedback into our work in the most meaningful ways. I believe in the transformative power of feedback. I absolutely believe that we need to be open to incorporating feedback into our biggest decisions. But, I also believe feedback is a practice. It ideally becomes a habit. It requires a type of ‘muscle memory,’ which both feedback giver and feedback receiver develop over time. I am guessing that the most productive and dynamic feedback conversations will occur when constituents and those who seek to serve them build up their mutual conversational skills. This can only be done by iterating through increasingly ambitious feedback loops.

I may be wrong; I see the merits of dreaming big right off the bat. But the question remains, for each of us in our work: what conversation are we inviting others into?

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