Sophie Sahaf January 19, 2017

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At LIFT a nonprofit supporting low income families across the US, we recently released a report describing our experience collecting member feedback. Listening Better outlines LIFT’s top ten lessons for designing and implementing a feedback survey targeting the people you serve through your work. After three years of collecting meaningful feedback – and some missteps along the way – we’re excited to share these lessons to help other organizations who are embarking on their feedback journey! We share three of the ten lessons with you here.

  1. Leadership buy-in is a must. Collecting and using client feedback is easiest – and most effective – when it’s part of your organization’s culture. That is, the value and importance of feedback is appreciated and incentivized from the highest levels. Collecting feedback from those you serve requires time and commitment from various parts of your organization: the frontline staff administers surveys or interviews, evaluation staff makes sense of results, and the leadership turns those findings into action. The value and efficacy of the feedback process can slide without a commitment to high quality results at every step. At LIFT, leadership support helped double our response rates – reaching over 60% across our offices – which improves our confidence that we’re making decisions based on strong data.
  2. When designing questions, look to your frontline staff. Gathering feedback can swiftly turn into a fruitless exercise if the collected information isn’t useful to decision-makers and practitioners within your organization. Survey questions that are designed in a dimly-lit backroom don’t typically produce information others will find actionable. At LIFT, we work closely with program staff so their learning priorities are embedded in our surveys by asking them to review survey questions and implementation plans. While it certainly takes time, we put energy into working with our program teams because it makes the feedback more useful. If it can’t be used to improve your services, why collect it in the first place?
  3. Feedback and prototyping go hand-in-hand. Client feedback surveys are ideal for identifying what needs to be tweaked within the nuts and bolts of a program – what is going well and what should be changed to better meet client needs. Feedback is also particularly helpful when designing new interventions. In the early stages of shaping a program, client input can provide critical information on the usefulness and accessibility of services. At LIFT, before any program details are set in stone, we talk with members in focus groups or create short surveys to ensure the activities have demonstrable value and are accessible to members. Making adjustments too late into the game can be costly, complicated, and difficult. So why not make changes while the details are still in flux?

Collecting meaningful information is not easy, and acting on that feedback can be even harder, but we think it’s worth the effort and pays dividends. Access more learnings and details on each are in the full “Listening Better” report. We are happy to share more on what we’ve learned. Feel free to contact us at [email protected]

Sophie has over a decade of program management and evaluation in the domestic and international anti-poverty space. She is passionate about finding ways to improve program quality by drawing on best practices and continuously assessing where program design and implementation can improve. At LIFT – an antipoverty nonprofit that supports low income parents in urban areas – she helped create the organization’s first learning and evaluation unit before assuming a broader program oversight role that combines program strategy and evaluation. She currently manages the national program team which is responsible for ensuring high quality program design and implementation in LIFT’s Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. offices.

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