Nikita Goossens, Feedback Labs | April 11, 2022
One of three themes we explored at the Feedback+Jacksonville Summit in March 2022 was ‘Listening for a Change’. Listening to people at the heart of your work is incredibly important to make positive changes in the world. This is what we learned from the sessions that addressed topics in this theme.
Listening for a Change: our takeaways
1. The importance of internal work
The first takeaway that came from the ‘Listening for a Change’ sessions is the importance of making sure everyone in your organization is on board with investing and carrying out towards good feedback practices. In the Opening Plenary ‘Changing Mindsets, Changing Practice – how can funders listen better?’ on day 2 of Feedback+Jacksonville Melinda Tuan (Fund for Shared Insight), Kelley Gulley (Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation), Veronica Olazabal (The BHP Foundation) and Kathleen Shaw (The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida) discussed how funders can use the power they have to help center the voices and opinions of the people who are most harmed by the existing systems and structures they and their partners are trying to change.
The panel shared which practices work and which don’t work by addressing tools and methods that support listening for a change. But just as important, they said, is the internal work that is necessary to get people to a place where feedback and listening is very present. You can rewatch the entire plenary here.
“If we’re not placing a value on what’s good quality feedback, then we’re doing a disservice to the [people] that have provided that feedback.” Veronica Olazabal of @BHPFoundation on the importance of collecting evidence-based #feedback. pic.twitter.com/Q8XQKMSw7M
— Feedback Labs (@FeedbackLabs) March 3, 2022
The Lunch Plenary ‘Trust People: How Feedback can Support Radical Change’ on day 1 of Feedback+Jacksonville also acknowledged how important it is to look at yourself and how you operate first. All participants in this session seperately presented how they turned their organizational plans around based on the feedback they received before discussing the topic of how feedback can support radical change together.
Lindsay Church, Executive Director of Minority Veterans of America, discussed how their organization was impacted by the change the pandemic brought, and how they used feedback to advance their work during this crisis. Instead of fighting the change, they decided to start over while putting the focus on what the community wanted and needed. After that, Moné Holder, Senior Director of Advocacy & Programs at Florida Rising, shared how she works towards bringing together Black and Brown communities to seize power and govern to advance social, economic, and racial justice across Florida.
Allana Forté of Jacksonville University and @acarlman of @GlobalGiving discuss the the challenges they've faced and strategies for shifting control over to communities while creating space for more inclusive #feedback. #FBLSummit pic.twitter.com/5b8rNPOedz
— Feedback Labs (@FeedbackLabs) March 2, 2022
Allana Forté, Senior Vice President at Jacksonville University, share in her presentation that she didn’t always see feedback as a gift, but rather as pain. Yet today giving and receiving feedback is an every day part of her job. “In a couple of years, the majority of the population is going to be a minority,” she said. “But the history of feedback has been very vanilla so there’s an adjustment we need to make’. Rewatch her speech here for more insights.
Alison Carlman, Director of Evidence + Learning at GlobalGiving encouraged the audience to ‘kill your darlings’ as she talked through how GlobalGiving started looking into their own practices around diversity, equity and inclusion and realized that in order to center community-led change they had to adapt how they do the work and who they bring to the table. You can rewatch her presentation here.
After their individual presentations, the speakers each sat together in conversation with each other. They emphasized the importance of not only listening to but also acting on feedback and stressed the importance of trusting people to know what is best for themselves and their communities. The individual presentations followed by the group discussions can be found in this recording and the Q&A that followed with all four participants can be found here.
— Kelley D. Gulley (@Kelley_D_Gulley) March 2, 2022
The breakout session ‘Data for Equity: A leading strategy to connecting equitable outcomes and with equitable feedback practices’ also emphasized the internal work necessary by organizations. During this virtual Breakout Session Kisha Freeman and Chris Scharenbroch of Evident Change said that in order to be successful in making a change, you first need to look at yourself to see why you are doing the work personally. They emphasized it is a good idea to be transparent about your own motives towards people e.g. taking a survey because this creates trust.
2. Listening for a more equitable society
A second takeaway was that listening – when done right – can help transform our society in equitable ways. This was strongly addressed in the Breakout Session of Ashley Pratt, Andrew Austin and Maryane (Madi) Dinkins of Mayo Clinic: ‘EverybodyIN for Change’. The speakers addressed that now we are in a time of societal change, and feedback can make sure we act on that change in the right ways.
"You get the feedback, you make the change, you overcommunicate the change, and then you ask 'What's next?'" @MayoClinic at the EverybodyIN for Change session on #ListeningforaChange. #FBLSummit pic.twitter.com/nLiFDugHtU
— Feedback Labs (@FeedbackLabs) March 2, 2022
‘It takes a village – a journey of self-determination,’ a presentation by Ronnie King, co-founder of the MyVillage Project, also highlighted this issue. The MyVillage Project is a local alliance that includes more than 50 black-governed local organizations that have been working to improve the quality of life for African Americans in Jacksonville. The goal is to fund small Black nonprofits and organizations that traditionally don’t receive funding. By listening to and acting on the needs of every one of these organizations, they contribute to building a more equitable society. Bilal Taylor of Charity Navigator (the world’s largest independent evaluator of nonprofits) and Brad Dudding of the Bail Project also addressed the need for more equitable structures in their session ‘The Evolution of the Culture & Community Rating System’. Through an interactive workshop, they focused on measuring the quality of organizations’ feedback loops and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) practices with constituents.
John Hecklinger and Ame Atsu David, from Global Fund for Children (GFC), presented on how GFC listens to its grantee partner and makes changes based on that feedback. They also highlighted the creative ways they are using to truly listen to local communities and empower them to make decisions that will help create positive change (including more equity) for the children and young people, especially girls, who live among them. Thomas Mukeh Vandi of Children’s Forum Network (CFN)-Kenema, a youth-led organization in Sierra Leone, is one of GFC’s partners and joined this session virtually.
3. Working together is key
What came to the surface in many sessions as well is that working together (through partnerships, sharing knowledge…) is key. The Closing Plenary ‘Feedback: A Tool for Advancing Equity’ on day 2 was another session in the theme of ‘Listening for a Change’ and addressed this point. A panel consisting of Valerie Threlfall (Listen4Good), Yessica Cancel (Pace Center for Girls) and Jesse Kerstetter (Silver Lining Mentoring) moderated by Bryan Simmons (Arcus Foundation) discussed how feedback can shift power in practice. Each participant presented how their organization handles feedback and shared best practices. Because in order to succeed, sharing knowledge is incredibly important. You can find the recording of this plenary here.
During ‘Using Feedback to Build Equitable Evidence of Program Impact’ Katie Smith Milway (MilwayPLUS social impact advisors), Melinda Tuan (Fund for Shared Insight), Sanjay Fernandes (SOLE Colombia), Ahmed Whitt (Center for Employment Opportunities) and Lymari Benitez (Pace Center for Girls) teamed up to talk about findings from research on how feedback can lead to more equitable program outcomes. They for example shared a ‘Funder Action Menu’ where one of the action points is to make capacity-building grants to improve nonprofit feedback practice, which was very useful for some of the people in the audience.
An excellent #ListeningforaChange session with speakers @KatieSMilway, @MelindaTuan, @sole_colombia, Ahmed Whitt, and Lymari Benitez dives into how institutional philanthropy is influencing grantmaker-grantee norms for accountability and sharing power. #FBLSummit pic.twitter.com/AWXCgwqanf
— Feedback Labs (@FeedbackLabs) March 3, 2022
Working together can happen in a myraid of ways. An organization can share insights and knowledge from their own experience with other organizations to help them reach their feedback goals like the speakers in the two previously mentioned sessions did. But another option is to actually partner up to achieve more together. The latter is what Miriam Mendoza, Ben Kramer (Austin PBS, KLRU-TV) and Sabine Romero (City of Austin) did. In ‘Feedback from Our Future: Using PBS KIDS Outreach to Open Dialogue about Public Transportation’ they explained how they worked together to involve the affected families – and children specifically – in the areas where the City of Austin, Texas is planning to upgrade roads. You can rewatch this session here.
Furthermore, in ‘How to Start Great Conversations: A tool for feedback evolution from Colombia’ on day 3 of Feedback+Jacksonville Sanjay Fernandes (SOLE Colombia) touched on the importance of working together and connecting with people as well. He talked about the community conversations he held to imagine the future in Colombia. After a lot of conflicts in the country, it is necessary to give people a voice in shaping their future again, he explained. One of the main purposes of SOLE (the SOLE method stands for Self-Organized Learning Environments) is to connect people because together, you can achieve much more. And we absolutely agree! That’s why we also partner up with many amazing organizations in our own work.
"You only learn to make questions by making questions. And you really only learn by iterating the process. You have to have a practice of doing it." Sanjay Fernandes of @sole_colombia breaks down how to start a Great Conversation. #FBLSummit pic.twitter.com/3p18ttP003
— Feedback Labs (@FeedbackLabs) March 4, 2022
As you may have realized by reading this blog post, there are lots of different types of societal changes that require feedback and listening to people to be successful. If you aren’t actively practicing feedback yet, now is a good time to start!