Megan Campbell July 1, 2016

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is feedback smart

Facilitation credit: Panthea Lee and Reboot

It’s only smart if it works. Those words capture the spirit of Smart Summit 2016, held May 12 in Washington, D.C. Over 70 participants representing development practitioners, aid donors, US philanthropist, academics and entrepreneurs came together to grapple with big questions like Does feedback from people improve outcomes? What is good evidence? What is the ideal balance of feedback and other data? The discussion was lively and the ideas were flowing. The Is Feedback Smart? paper provided a jumping off point, and you can read the final version here. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Smart Summit, it’s that exploring good questions leads to more great questions.

We’ve summarized the key questions we heard emerge at the Smart Summit below. They echo questions we’ve heard from many of you, and taken together they outline an agenda for research and experimentation. We sense a growing desire to explore answers to these questions, and we at Feedback Labs look forward to supporting that exploration. These questions will help guide our efforts over the next months, and so we want to hear your feedback on them! Are these the right questions to prioritize? How can we best support you in acting on them? Email your thoughts to Megan at and we’ll dive in together.

We at Feedback Labs are looking forward to working with you to refine these questions into concrete hypotheses that can guide us as we build up knowledge about what makes feedback smart. We’re looking forward to supporting your rapid experimentation as we explore what makes feedback feasible. We’re looking forward to debating what makes feedback right.

Feedback Loop

Facilitation credit: Panthea Lee and Reboot

Your feedback and comments fell into 3 categories: feasible, smart and right.

Is Feedback Feasible?

We sense a lot of fire and momentum around the question of how to make closing the feedback loop – not just collecting feedback, but learning from it and acting on it – feasible within our organizations. Specifically, we see many of you coalescing/circling around the following 3 questions:

  1. What feedback should we collect?
  2. How do we draw out representative voices?
  3. How do we act on what we hear? How should we change the
    1. plumbing
    2. incentives
    3. and processes

We look forward to working with you to fan the flames and take action on these questions!

Is Feedback Smart?

This is the main question we asked in the Is Feedback Smart? Paper [hyperlink], and your reactions have helped us narrow in on the specific questions many of you think are most important. In particular, many of you are thinking about:

  1. What is perceptual feedback exactly, and what makes it evidence?
  2. How can we assess the impact of feedback? How do we weave together data, expertise and citizen voice to measure the impact of closed feedback loops on development outcomes?
  3. What principles characterize the circumstances in which feedback is smart? What kinds of feedback are best suited to what circumstances?

We look forward to exploring these questions with you!

Is Feedback Right?

Your comments also pointed out to us that we shouldn’t lose sight of the big picture question: why are closed feedback loops the right thing to do? What will we make better in the world by investing in feedback? In particular, we heard many of you ask:

  1. Where do we want to shift decision-making and agency from/to in the development system?
  2. What new roles are emerging for development intermediaries?
  3. What do we really mean by ownership?

We look forward to debating and discussing these big ideas with you!

If you’d like to be involved in interrogating these questions, have ideas on how we should pursue them or think there’s something we’re missing, get in touch with Megan at!

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