Feedback is powered by faith in people. When you ask for feedback, whether one-on-one from a colleague or at scale from thousands of people you are seeking to serve, you believe that the person giving you feedback will help make your work stronger.
Whether the feedback you receive is positive or negative, framed constructively or critically, you have faith in the process, in the idea that the feedback you hear will help you improve.
For many of us that faith has paid off – experiencing the power of feedback to change and improve our work convinces us of its importance.
But faith can’t always convince the sceptics, nor should we expect it to on its own. That’s one reason why we at Feedback Labs focus on marshalling and summarizing the evidence on how incorporating feedback can lead to better results. But more is needed.
In March the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, or 3ie, published a fascinating report – an evidence gap map for interventions that aim to improve relationships between states and society. If you’re not familiar with evidence gap maps, be forewarned – the visual map is addictive. The gap map collects the studies and systematic reviews that assess the impact of different interventions that aim to improve state-society relations. Different types of interventions, like electoral monitoring or participatory priority setting, are categorized based on the outcomes they aim to achieve. The map shows, in an easy-to-digest way, what impact assessments have been carried out for different outcomes.
Among the headline findings of the 3ie report was that there is a relative lack of studies and reviews of citizen feedback mechanisms. As the report points out, many programs emphasize interventions to provide citizen feedback mechanisms but the evidence base is relatively small compared to what exists for other interventions.
That means not only do we not have as much evidence as we want on whether citizen feedback interventions work, but also that we don’t know enough about how they work. Jane Reisman, Founder of ORS Impact, and Veronica Olazabal, Director of Measurement, Evaluation and Organizational Performance at the Rockefeller Foundation, recently co-authored a paper exploring the frontiers of impact measurement and evaluation for the field of impact investing. One of those frontiers is evaluation that examines how impact investments work, why they work and what factors are at play. I believe similar questions define the frontiers of studying citizen feedback mechanisms.
One resource that ably investigates how citizen participation interventions work is Xavier de Souza Briggs’ book Democracy as Problem Solving: Civic Capacity in Communities Across the Globe. Lately we’ve been passing the book around the Feedback Labs office, appreciating the detail with which the book describes how and why specific approaches to increasing civic capacity work. It’s the kind of summary of evidence and analysis that we need more of for the constituent feedback field.
This summer, we’ll be working hard to summarize the studies that assess how information, including feedback, can help empower people. We’re asking under what conditions is information empowering? in partnership with GlobalGiving and Omidyar Network. We welcome your input on that question, and more broadly on what evidence you think is missing when it comes to understanding the impact of constituent feedback. What do you need to convince the skeptics you encounter? What should we be studying next?