Kyende Kinoti & Elizabeth O’Malley | May 11, 2021
* This interview was conducted in Spanish and the blog has been translated into English.
Jonathan Velasco works with Fundación Comunitaria Oaxaca (Oaxacan Community Foundation) which is an organization focused on generating long-lasting community development that is grounded in the community’s vision and is supporting local agents of change.
In our interview with Jonathan, we spoke about the importance of organizations engaging in a systematized feedback loop in order to truly engage their constituents in the processes affecting them and their communities. Jonathan speaks passionately about why a good feedback practice not only allows people to feel invested in various programs but also helps build trust between organizations and the communities they seek to serve.
Elizabeth O’Malley interviewer: Can you tell us, in a few words, what your organization’s feedback practice focuses on and why listening is important to you?
Jonathan Velasco, narrator: Our work is very focused on community development. So the intention of our work is to always be closely linked to the needs of the communities, starting from their own vision and from their own dialogue. We do not arrive with a preconceived idea but rather we speak with the communities so that we can build a joint and collaborative vision.
“Nosotros no llegamos con una idea totalmente preconcebida sino más bien dialogamos con las comunidades para que se construya una visión conjunta y colaborativa”
When we received the invitation for the Feedback Crash Course, it made a lot of sense for us because our processes can be a little circular. After we make a diagnosis, we begin to do evaluations and return again to the diagnosis to see what changes and impacts our actions have had. Feedback promotes dialogue about the actions we have made. It is very consistent with our practice to have this dialogue with the community based on what we have worked on together.
EO: Throughout the Crash Course we talked about the importance of closing the loop. How do you do that?
JV: As I mentioned, sometimes we do not necessarily close the cycles because the processes continue. When we had this Feedback Crash Course, we were in a process of closing the loop with one of our communities that we worked with on a project after some earthquakes that happened in 2017. We had already gone through several stages of the feedback loop with that community and needed to close the loop. So like all other processes, we first have meetings with several focus groups within the community to find out what are their concerns and perceptions regarding our work. We also have a similar process with the authorities. In the groups we work with, there is a form of community organization and decision-making called “the assembly” which includes both the authorities and the heads of families or landowners, most of whom are men. In front of the assembly, we present all the results that were obtained in collecting feedback, and, if there are pending issues to be worked on, and what those pending issues are. This is a feedback exercise because the assembly represents the community. We believe this went well, but, we also have meetings to understand the opinions of other groups, like women, young people, and even children.
EO: What has been the most challenging stage of the feedback loop for you, and why?
JV: I consider the process of systematizing feedback to be the most challenging part. The challenge we discussed in the Crash Course is that those processes, the final evaluation, and feedback processes, are sometimes the most complicated for those with fewer resources and less time. All the attention of our donors, or the people who participate with us, is focused on implementing actions, but not necessarily when we are in the process of systematization and feedback evaluation, so that is the challenge that we have faced. So to find that methodology or that tool that allows our type of organization to systematize feedback more simply, I think that has been the challenge. We can fill up on testimonies and photographs and many things, but without having a more orderly and clear way to understand the feedback, it does not provide us with as much use.
EO: What changes have you seen in your participants as a result of the information you learned from the course?
JV: I believe that it is very important for people to have this type of process – they feel like they are part of the work. When you return to the people and you ask them, “what do you think about this, what we can improve, would you be available to collaborate?” they feel more involved in the process and they continue with the activities or generate new activities. For us, the process of feedback represents the possibility of deepening trust with communities and at the same time opening the door for other types of processes. We care a lot about this and we try to continue applying it in our projects.
EO: It is interesting to hear how feedback has helped you to deepen trust. Can you say more about that?
JV: Yes, with the example of the communities affected by earthquakes, we are trying to see how we can implement a program of educational scholarships for young people studying in high school. So we want to have a feedback exercise with the students to understand more about the program we deliver. So it has become an important part because through feedback we can reorient or redirect the possibilities we have with them.
EO: And I have a final question for you, what is your best advice for someone who is just beginning their feedback process?
JV: The advice I can give for organizations that have not practiced feedback is that it is natural, that is, asking someone for feedback is natural. It happens when you cook at home for your family or for your partner, at the end, you always ask, “te gustó o no te gustó?” In the same way, I think that if we accept feedback as a process that occurs naturally between organizations and communities, it will be much easier to understand. On the other hand, the feedback process does not necessarily have to be complicated or very complex. It can be very simple, very specific, and directed. From there, you can collect a lot of information. Finally, feedback is not necessarily to be done at the end of the process – feedback can continue at the same time that actions are being implemented.
Following the course that Jonathan attended and during this conversation, we received great feedback from Jonathan who wished that the course could be more relevant to participating organizations. Based on this feedback, we have adapted the language within the Spanish course to expand our definitions of feedback, and we have created more opportunities to customize the course to organizations’ needs, including who their constituents are, where they are based, and what their current feedback practices are.
Jonathan also gave us feedback about ensuring that attendees can have long-term engagement with feedback trainers and each other. In light of this, we are now offering office hour sessions for Crash Course participants to meet with a feedback trainer, 3 months following the course, who can further support them in addressing their feedback challenges.
Our conversation with Jonathan offered great insight into how organizations that are working to collect feedback in disaster situations can go about ensuring that their participants are listened to and remain at the center of any decisions that will affect their lives.
The Feedback Crash Course is a training that equips participants with the knowledge, skills, and tools needed to listen and respond to feedback from the people they seek to serve. Participants receive expert mentorship, engage with case studies, and collaborate with peers. Throughout the interactive course, participants hone critical skills for understanding and implementing each step of the feedback loop and apply those skills to their own feedback challenges.