‘Carla, we realised it was for the good of the community, not for extra scrutiny from the donor’.
A lot had changed since my last support visit to Utarpradesh – the project team had now fully embraced the feedback mechanism. They were thriving: listening and being responsive to community questions, suggestions and concerns. A stark contrast to my first visit, where I’d left feeling in a spin, overwhelmed by the diversionary tactics that thwarted my scheduled plans to help the team set up a feedback system.
Guidelines for setting up feedback systems stress the importance of ‘bringing staff on board’ for strong internal referral and response systems. The ‘But How!?’ (as it’s easier said than done) is often missing. With UKAid funding, World Vision led a consortium for piloting Beneficiary Feedback Mechanisms. Across 6 countries, and 7 different organisations, here are three of my key take-aways:
- Have clear protocols that outline responsibilities in collecting and responding to feedback. Involving your team in the design of these protocols will increase their understanding of what a feedback system is (which is often a new concept). Their involvement in decision making will also contribute to their buy-in and ownership. Our partner in Pakistan, Rahnuma, brought everyone together and mapped out a possible feedback system. Collectively, all issues and considerations were teased out. We found that by clarifying levels of authority – who was responsible for what – staff were much more confident taking action in response. In Rahnuma, this contributed to swift responsiveness to feedback. For example field staff were confident making small adjustments to youth centres that led to higher engagement in sexual and reproductive health sessions, while decisions beyond their authority (for example, a redistribution for nutrient packs) were referred to senior managers who reached agreement with the fund manager for a budget line change.
- Build responsibilities into staff job descriptions and work plans. Responding to feedback takes time and staff need to know these activities are acknowledged by managers, valued and can be prioritized against other competing responsibilities. Celebrating team member’s responsiveness to feedback, reiterates the message that feedback systems are about continual improvement rather than oversight and scrutiny. In Kolkata, CINI’s discussed community feedback at weekly meetings and team members jointly solved problem agreed to a course of action (for example who would meet with a government service provider). This helped to depersonalise feedback, which became a normal part of reflection and planning processes.
- Know that it will take time to bring staff on board. Often it takes experiencing the benefits of being responsive to feedback before having the true ‘ah-ha’ moment. However, sensitization needs to start before the system is established. And not just from the boss! In training, I can run through my standard ‘why we should have a feedback system’ – however, peer champions (who talk about their own experience with feedback systems) do a much better job at tailoring the right sales pitch and talking through concerns. Leaders also play a critical role in creating the vision for being a people centred responsive organisation. With time, your whole staff will be advocating for the importance of feedback systems.
More information on findings from the pilots can be found at feedbackmechanisms.org. The pilot Practice Notes help to ‘troubleshoot’ and generate ideas for avoiding and addressing common challenges that arise in setting up feedback and response systems.
Carla is a Senior Accountability Advisor with World Vision UK. Drawing on a breadth of professional experience Carla supports staff and partners to establish community feedback and response systems in development and humanitarian operations. Her portfolio of direct country engagement extends across Asia, the Pacific, Middle East and East Africa Regions. For the past seven years her professional focus has been on building organisational architecture, culture and staff competencies to effectively listen and respond to community feedback, so that resources intended for these communities are used in their best interest.