Anne Sophie Ranjbar November 11, 2016

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Accountability Lab, a member of Feedback Labs, hosted a LabStorm at the annual Feedback Summit: From Talk to Action. Their reflection has been adapted with permission from the author and can be found in its original form here.

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As a small organization tackling the seemingly abstract issue of accountability, Accountability Lab has learned the great power of storytelling. At Feedback Summit 2016, Accountability Lab led a LabStorm to collectively interrogate how to communicate impact. Anne Sophie Ranjabar, Anusha Yadav, and Heather Gilberds brought to the community the idea of storytelling as a way to strengthen feedback loops. Collectively, the feedback community examined three guiding questions:

  • Why is it important to communicate about our feedback loops?
  • Who are the audiences to which we should communicate our feedback stories?
  • What are some of the methods and tools we can use to effectively communicate feedback stories?

Feedback loops are at the heart of accountability systems. Fortunately, more and more organizations are recognizing the value of feedback (the number of attendees at the Feedback Summit doubled in size this year!) and are finding creative ways to gather this information (check out all the resources in the Feedback Toolkit). And yet, effectively communicating that feedback to the appropriate audiences remains a barrier that we must overcome in order to utilize data and close the loop.

Closing the loop demands reporting back the feedback – both what was acted on and what was unable to change – to all parties. The LabStorm determined that this is a part of the loop many organizations struggle with. One place we have seen success is with the unique process of building feedback loops within independent school systems. What made it work? Stories, not just results, about the entire feedback process. This garners greater understanding and buy-in from participants, donors, and other stakeholders – which in turn supports the continued existence of the feedback loop.

Organizations that are well versed in storytelling often focus on sharing feedback stories with donors, but the Labstorm consensus was to prioritize the people from whom we received the feedback. Since we are gathering sensitive data, we need to make sure that they find value in the process:what information would they like to hear back? how they would like to receive it? And remember, don’t just ask, actually integrate this into your dissemination plan.

Communicating information back to participants in a thoughtful manner takes time and thus can be hard to fit into already tight grant timelines. However, as demonstrated at the Summit, donors are becoming more open to two-way feedback and recognize that if participants feel more respected, they are more likely to stay involved in the program. At the end of the Accountability Film School program in Liberia stakeholders at all levels (community, civil society, government, media, and foreign aid representatives) come together at a graduation ceremony to watch the films. Afterwards, the audience asks the filmmakers questions and make public commitments on how to solve the problems addressed in the films.

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These anecdotes deepened the LabStorm conversation, and resulted in a plethora of communication channels that will keep audiences engaged in lieu of long reports that few people read. Ultimately, tools and methods should be selected or designed to 1) fit the context of the local community, 2) integrate into the program in a sustainable way, and 3) build upon existing relationships of trust.

How can you apply these principles in your work? Below are possible channels of engagement, compiled from the collaborative brainstorming power of the Feedback Summit LabStorm. Let us know which of these, or others, work for you in your work. We’d love hear your ideas and feedback!

  • Eye-catching infographics that capture your most important and relevant data (there all sorts of free tools for this available online, like Piktochart);
  • A game show-like experience in which you quiz participants on the results;
  • Short videos or blogs in which participants themselves can share how they benefited from the feedback loop and encourage others to get involved;
  • Social media mining tools like Storify pull out key points from a conversation, or platforms like Insights show how you’re making decisions based on feedback received;
  • Local journalists, who can serve as “infomediaries” that are trusted by the public and skilled at connecting information to current events on the public’s mind;
  • Radio shows, community meetings, and/or public “Quarterly Impact Calls”, which cater to oral cultures and allow participants to comment and ask questions. For example, an organization in New Orleans set up microphone booths around the city with guiding questions, and then worked with radio stations to produce programs from the recordings.

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Anne Sophie Ranjbar is Associate Director of Accountability Lab, an NGO that that incubates young people’s innovative ideas for building integrity in their communities. She helps lead the organization’s strategy, operations, impact and learning, and partnerships, and has also spend 6 months leading its programs on the ground in Nepal. Prior to her four years at Accountability Lab, Anne Sophie worked on the development team at the Global Fund for Children; helped the government of Ghana implement reforms for the country’s orphanage system with the KaeMe Foundation; conducted research on democracy trends across the world at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law; and provided communications support to The Center for International Humanitarian Cooperation. She received a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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