Facilitator: Dieter ZinnbauerJune 7, 2017

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Feedback mechanisms at airport security checkpoints, or the entrance of the World Bank, are inviting. The smiley faces clearly display a range of emotions easy to identify. The buttons themselves are just begging to be pushed. It’s visual. It’s intuitive. But does it effectively close the feedback loop?

At our latest LabStorm, Dieter Zinnbauer of Transparency International examined how to take visual feedback systems a step further. He believes that it’s important to make feedback visible in physical environments. Instead of just asking someone to push a button, wouldn’t it be more powerful if all the collected feedback was shown around the display?

Ambient accountability addresses how creative interventions can use physical space to empower people. Can ambient feedback help citizens exert their rights?

Having a visual, engaging method for collection is the first step to closing a feedback loop. But there’s still a long way to go. Maintaining accountability requires an easy way for individuals who are providing their feedback to understand where it is going and why it’s important. There is empirical evidence that ambient feedback, or feedback that is displayed around people in the physical environment, makes a difference. There is huge potential waiting to be unlocked. Where have we seen ambient feedback succeed? Where else could ambient accountability be useful? LabStorm attendees dove into these questions and came up with three basic principles:

  1. Move from intimidation to empowerment. The norm in our world is to create and maintain power dynamics, working against empowerment of regular people. Take police stations – a lot of thought has been put into how to make them look as intimidating as possible. Now, we need to think about how to design welcoming and empowering spaces, as is already happening in Georgia. Ambient feedback increases human sensitivity to visual clues, which in turn empower people. Take for example, the sticker on the back of a Semi Truck that asks “How’s my driving?” and provides a number to call. As a result of those stickers, there has been a decrease in accident rates. Not because people are calling in at mass rates, but simply because the power dynamic has shifted: power is in the hands of the people, and the truck drivers know that.
  2. Physical environments are powerful. Historically, towns in the Northeast were designed around a central square with the intention of creating a space to exchange ideas. There’s emerging evidence that the physical environment has powerful effects on people. A study by the Harvard Business School, for example, found that equipping restaurants with open kitchens allowed customers to see the chefs and vice-versa and improved both customer ratings of the food’s deliciousness and chefs’ ratings of job satisfaction. Can the physical design of a space invite the same depth of feedback that an inclusive conversation can?
  3. Reporting back is effective. Visual displays for collecting data are an interesting start. Reporting back on the feedback collected in a visual way can also be very powerful. This applies on-line in addition to in person. For example, Booking.com continuously provides users with visual feedback on what other users are doing. Visual cues that others are booking the hotel you’re looking at seem to be effective in getting you to book! SeeClickFix is an example of an ambient feedback tool that is closing the loop, and trying to maintain a visually engaging component when reporting back the feedback received. They thank citizens for reporting, answer their concerns, and keep the requests public for others to see what has (or has not) been done.

We are excited to collaborate with Dieter Zinnbauer on experiments with ambient feedback. If you’d like to learn more from Dieter and more examples of ambient accountability, visit his blog ambient-accountability.org. Want to stay involved? Reach out to us at [email protected] or contribute your thoughts below.


Dr. Dieter Zinnbauer joined Transparency International in March 2007. He has served as Chief Editor of the Global Corruption Report until February 2009 and now co-ordinates TI’s work on emerging policy issues. Prior to joining TI Dieter worked as policy analyst and research co-ordinator for a variety of organisations in the field of development, democratization and technology policy, including UNDP, UNDESA, and the European Commission. Dieter has an MSc in Economics from the University of Regensburg, Germany, a PhD in Development Studies from the London School of Economics and has held post doctorate fellowship positions with the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs, Oxford University, the US Social Science Research Council, the London School of Economics and most recently (2014) the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard Law School.


LabStorms are collaborative brainstorm sessions designed to help an organization wrestle with a challenge related to feedback loops, with the goal of providing actionable suggestions. LabStorms are facilitated by FBL members and friends who have a prototype, project idea, or ongoing experiment on which they would like feedback. Here, we provide report-outs from LabStorms. If you would like to participate in an upcoming LabStorm (either in person or by videoconference), please drop Sarah a note at [email protected].

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