How to handle feedback in a field with no right answers

Mama SowJune 29, 2017

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My name is Mama Sow, and I’m the new Research Intern at Feedback Labs. I work in international relations and conflict situations in particular, and I find that in the world of conflict management it can feel as if negative feedback places you at a dead end. Oftentimes when there is no right answer on how to develop a registry system for newborns on a migrant route or on how to reduce clan warfare in the southern Philippines, feedback can be a rather unpleasant process; it can feel less about improving an idea and more about arguing about the right solution. As I do more in the field, I’m figuring out how to sift through feedback and use it to propel a project forward, rather than cause it to stall.

There are several things I’ve found to help me keep the momentum on a project after receiving feedback. Here are three of them:

  1. Dissect and Apply. Before diving into a project, I’ve been told that parts of my proposal are too choppy (or too broad). I knew there was a good chance that other parts of my work would come under the same scrutiny. I figured the best way to get ahead of this roadblock during the review process was to apply the same feedback to all other areas of my work. This helped with uniformity and sped up the revisions to come.
  2. Perspective. Perspective. Perspective. Don’t get discouraged if your policy proposals receive negative feedback. I find that feedback in a situation with no right answers can sometimes stem from different opinions on how to solve a particular problem. I try listen to other people’s perspective but not abandon my solution entirely, since my perspective matters too. Instead, I found a way to bridge the gap between the two ideas.
  3. Spell It Out. I’ve received negative feedback from a reviewer that got bogged down in complicated research and jargon I used. I was reminded of the importance of framing my ideas around my audience. I started using simple, plain language to ease collaboration with others outside my expertise and adjusted the order and format of materials to make for easy reads. This paved the way for clearer and more direct feedback that made my product better.

I think back to the time when I pitched my idea for how to register newborn refugees, and how good it felt to finally get an “ok, we can work with that” after being told “no, that won’t work” nearly six times in a single day.

Feedback on the inconsistencies in my model and the safety concerns were what I focused on to produce better ideas.

Never abandon your ideas when the going gets tough, but prepare to revisit the drawing board. This, in a field with no right answers, is why researchers and practitioners must exercise patience during the feedback process, in order to better help those in need.


mama sow

Mama is the current research intern at Feedback Labs. Her curiosity in feedback stems from civic engagement and its impact on public goods provision and tools of mediation that are needed for conflict resolution. Her previous research experience has centered on tracking political developments in the Balkans and researching their impact on migration as an International Policy & Diplomacy Fellow at the United Macedonian Diaspora. Previously, she conducted literary research for the Africa Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division at the Library of Congress. Mama is in the last semester in her undergraduate studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, in pursuit of a B.A in Government and Politics: International Relations, with a minor in International Development and Conflict Management.

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