Sophia Johnson, Feedback Labs | August 31, 2023
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation strives toward transformative change through impactful funding in areas of profound concern. MacArthur lives its mission through the “Just Imperative,” which charges the organization to lead with a commitment to justice. The Just Imperative also requires that the Foundation examine its decisions and actions to ensure that they enhance the conditions in which justice can thrive. It is through this lens that the Foundation remains focused on dismantling the structures, systems, and practices that uphold racism or produce unjust outcomes.
The MacArthur Foundation values feedback. MacArthur’s Learning Officer, who serves on its Evaluation and Learning team and works with teams across the Foundation, supports the development of stronger feedback practices. MacArthur recognizes that hearing directly from the people with whom it works most closely—partner organizations and grantees—will help the Foundation improve its work. As the MacArthur Foundation strives to continuously improve its feedback practice, it shares evaluations of its work and communicates its learnings and experiences along the way. In this LabStorm with the Learning Officer, we discussed how the Foundation might effectively seek feedback from partners, authentically and transparently share its experiences, and promote responsible feedback practices in the field.
Engagement Equals Effort. The MacArthur Foundation hopes to lessen the burden on both grantees and communities served—possibly through cross-sector feedback. Attendees suggested figuring out ways to make the feedback and engagement process more meaningful. If the providers of feedback understand the importance of the engagement, then making it quick and easy becomes less of an issue. People are willing to put in extra effort if they know it will have an impact. Additionally, the normalization of grantee communication in areas where they need support was also suggested. It will be important to find ways to build new and strengthen existing relationships so that they feel comfortable sharing where they are in need of additional support. Lastly, as a philanthropic organization and connector, attendees suggested bringing organizations together in cohorts to support each other; for example, if an organization expresses a need or is struggling through feedback, find ways to connect that grantee with another grantee who might be able to share meaningful experiences.
Investing in Dialogue Spaces. The MacArthur Foundation strives to be vulnerable and transparent in seeking feedback and closing the feedback loop with grantees and other philanthropic organizations. Participants stressed that it’s important to think about how you’re being transparent and vulnerable. Sharing what you heard from feedback at the end of the loop is critical (inappropriately anonymized or synthesized ways), but investing in dialogue spaces within the loop, where you can say, “Here are the patterns in what we heard; what do you think it means?” can lead to much more meaningful participation and deeper insights or solutions.
Streamlining Feedback. The Foundation can also encourage the practice and visibility of good and responsible feedback practices among philanthropic organizations by modeling and sharing its feedback practices externally. Contributors to the LabStorm discussion proposed tapping into the networks that it’s already in to learn about the progress or stagnation, it is making towards external commitments.
As the Lab came to a close, the brilliant ideas kept coming! The meeting’s main takeaway was to ensure that the feedback process is meaningful to all stakeholders while also actionable to the Foundation and that taking a risk on sharing learnings as they happen can influence relationships with grantees and others in the philanthropic sector in positive, and hopefully transformative, ways.
Learn More About LabStorms
LabStorms are collaborative problem-solving sessions designed to help organizations tackle feedback-related challenges or share what’s working well in their practice.
Presenters leave the experience with honest, actionable feedback and suggestions to improve their feedback processes and tools.
To learn more about participating in a virtual LabStorm, please visit feedbacklabs.org/labstorms.