Derek ThorneMarch 15, 2017

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Why would citizens bother to give feedback?

This is something I wrote about last year on the Open Government Partnership’s website. To take it a step further, we have to look into behaviour change.

For me, behaviour change is most often associated with health or hygiene campaigns – but at Integrity Action we find it relevant for feedback too.

After all, we are trying to create the conditions in which citizens consistently give feedback and make their voices heard, when previously they all too often didn’t, or couldn’t. That sounds like a substantial change in behaviour to me.

So how would such a change happen? The behaviour change wheel, mapped onto citizen feedback practices, provides a useful model if someone is to change their feedback-related behaviour. They will need:

  1. Capacity. In part, this refers to the citizen’s awareness of feedback opportunities: what mechanisms or systems exist for feedback, and do they know about them? It also refers to citizens’ knowledge of their rights: can people give meaningful feedback if they are unsure of what they are entitled to in the first place?We can interpret capacity in other ways too. Does a mother of four have the time to go somewhere and give feedback? Can she physically get to the place where she would fill out a survey or have a conversation with a program officer? And that’s not an exhaustive analysis – there are many barriers that citizens face when giving feedback!
  2. Motivation. What motivates a citizen to give feedback? Trust is key – you need to trust that your feedback will be listened to (and that giving it won’t endanger your safety). Closing the feedback loop is key to building that trust. At Integrity Action, citizen monitors prioritize closing the loop by ensuring that citizens can see tangible benefits from their feedback in a short time frame. Citizens can see that their feedback is being taken seriously, and are more likely to speak up again.It doesn’t have to take long for those tangible benefits to materialize. In our SindhupalCheck project in Nepal, local community members monitored whether houses were being rebuilt after the 2015 earthquake and their findings were routed directly to Helvetas, the INGO supporting the homeowners. They were able to fix many problems rapidly. When surveyed, almost all homeowners said they would happily work with Helvetas again.
  3. Opportunity. At a minimum, a feedback mechanism needs to actually exist. If it is literally impossible to give feedback, then your motivation and capacity are wasted. Taking it further, that feedback mechanism needs to be accessible. If our mother of four doesn’t have to travel anywhere or spend much time giving feedback, then her limited capacity might still be sufficient.But taking it further still – let’s suppose our ambition is for all citizens in a given society to have the opportunity to give feedback. And let’s suppose that, in the society we’re looking at, someone with a physical disability is likely to be hidden away by their family and kept indoors. Would a suite of diverse, accessible feedback channels be enough to ensure this person could give feedback? I think not. Far deeper changes in the society’s attitudes and behaviours would be needed.

So, is it the job of feedback practitioners to tackle inequality in society? Maybe not – it’s certainly not their job alone. But at Integrity Action it seemed inescapable. So, our citizen monitoring approach focuses on ensuring citizens at risk of exclusion can act as monitors.

Behaviour change is most easily applied to the individual – their capacity, motivation, and opportunity.

If we’re looking to secure wider changes in society then behaviour change isn’t the only way to think about it.

Perhaps what we are trying to achieve is norm change. As this excellent blog puts it, “social norms can act as the brake on behaviour change”. How? It’s all about the groups you are part of, and what you think they do or believe. So as an individual, you might think it’s good to give feedback and engage in democracy more generally, but if you believe the people around you have the opposite expectation of you, then that could prevent you from doing it.

Learning more about what makes people give feedback and become civically engaged is a big learning priority for Integrity Action over the coming years. Please reach out if you have any thoughts – we’d love to hear from you (@dfthorne1 on Twitter).


tris lumey

Derek Thorne joined Integrity Action in 2017 and his background combines international development, media and communication. Most recently he worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, designing and overseeing programmes aimed at improving journalism standards and boosting coverage of important topics around the world. These programmes included Wealth of Nations, a pan-African initiative assisting media to investigate tax abuse and illicit money – in 2017 it won Best International Capacity Building Project at the British Expertise International Awards. Prior to this he worked for One World Media, where he ran a UK-wide journalism education programme. Derek began his career as a radio journalist and filmmaker, before moving into training, project management, and international development. He then spent one year in Bangladesh working for a disability advocacy organization, and has run other projects involving media and communication in the UK and Tanzania.

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