Facilitators: Lara Powers and Nancy McGuire Choi
July 19, 2018

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Polaris uses data-driven strategies to prevent and disrupt human trafficking, a $150 billion industry that affects 25 million people worldwide. Experimenting with new ways to engage survivors of human trafficking, Polaris incorporates their voices and lived experiences throughout their work. An essential component to the success of Polaris’ work is ensuring all that they do is informed by survivors. This takes shape through paid consulting opportunities: focus groups to learn how trafficking operates, engage survivors in promoting the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, establishing corporate partnerships to leverage the strengths and resources of the private sector to empower survivors, and the development of practical tools to equip staff to mainstream survivor engagement across each department.

Survivors and their trafficking experiences are highly diverse. As such, Polaris seeks to engage a survivor population that reflects the breadth of survivor experiences across various types of trafficking through paid consulting opportunities.

At its core, the Polaris survivor engagement model has three characteristics: diversity and inclusion, economic empowerment, and user-centered feedback.

This LabStorm explored how to ensure transparency at every stage of the feedback loop and define the ethical boundaries for feedback across the organization:

  1. Recognize constituent contributions to encourage ethical data collection. Survivors form the backbone of Polaris’ work by using their lived experience to inform strategy, offer advice , and consult on various projects. By building survivor engagement opportunities into our strategic plans and budget, Polaris is establishing an organizational culture which recognizes the value and impact of survivor insight. Transparency in how survivor insight is gathered and used is critical to ethical engagement and a closed feedback loop. As one LabStorm participant put it, “People just want their voice reflected, not rejected.” It is important to make the impact of shared experiences visible.
  2. Utilize existing tools to engage constituents to inform strategic decisions. One of Polaris’ cornerstone approaches to combating trafficking lies in the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. While the primary function of the hotline is to serve survivors in need of resources and support, the hotline has also proven a wealth of data on how trafficking actually operates. The information gathered on the national hotline makes up the largest dataset on human trafficking in the United States. The information currently collected is useful for trend-level analysis, but does not represent the full breadth and depth of survivor insight and experience. Labstorm participants suggested creating other avenues for survivors to share their stories, understanding that a survivor’s perception and articulation of their experience will evolve as they process their trauma. These stories can inform existing hotline data, as well as assist with informing other programmatic needs.
  3. Create beacons within the network to ensure use of feedback across sectors. Engaging survivor stories and feedback across sectors that are impacted by trafficking can help raise awareness and engage partners who may otherwise miss interpret signs of trafficking. LabStorm attendees suggested public service announcements informed by anonymous survivor stories as a way to use data ethically to widen the reach of the organization.

We had a great time hosting Polaris for LabStorm and were energized by the conversation. Do you have advice as to how to ensure transparency in feedback loops? Let us know in the comments or email us at [email protected].

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