Better Outcomes

This page includes quick examples of feedback improving outcomes, as well as a curated list of research papers and articles that show the benefit of feedback loops.

Quick Examples

Higher student test scores when the community gave feedback on schools

Incorporating community feedback into the evaluation of schools in Uganda reduced teacher absenteeism by 13.2%. Student test scores improved from the 50th to the 58th percentile. 

Source: Andrew et al, 2010. Management and Motivation in Ugandan Primary Schools.

Better recovery and lower medical costs when patient preferences were incorporated

Medical care that incorporated patient preferences and values was correlated with a six-point increase in recovery as measured on a 100-point scale. The number of referrals and diagnostic tests for those patients fell by half.

Source: Stewart et al, 2000. The Impact of Patient-Centered Care on Outcomes.

More votes for politicians who listen to potential voters

In the Philippines, political parties that hosted deliberative dialogue with potential voters and listened to their proposals for changes to the party platform increased their vote share by 50% compared to the control group.

Source: Wantchekon et al, 2015. Policy Deliberation and Voter Persuasion: Experimental Evidence from an Election in the Philippines.

Feedback Labs Research

In 2016, Feedback Labs made a first attempt to explore whether, and under what conditions, feedback is the “smart” thing to do – whether it improves outcomes in a way that is measurable. We released a draft paper interrogating the concept of feedback as the “smart thing” to do in aid, development, and philanthropy. The draft paper sought feedback from practitioners and experts and was followed by the Smart Summit – a convening to begin addressing how to bring about improvements in these fields. We incorporated the comments and feedback received and published the full paper, “Is Feedback Smart”. Would you like to learn more about the paper and the evidence we found?

External Research

These articles are sourced from leaders across the feedback community, and feature work from many sectors: nonprofit, philanthrophy, government, impact investing. Though the context and methodology of each paper is different, they all point towards the same conclusion: listening to people who use programs improves the efficacy of those programs.

Do you know of a great paper or study that showcases the value of listening? Please share it with us, and we will be sure to add it to the collection below.

A Simpler Way to Measure Impact: It’s All About Listening

60 Decibels  |  June 2019

In impact investing and beyond, we still struggle to get high-quality, useful data about social impact: impact measurement, which could be the cornerstone of how we set goals and assess performance, can at times feel like a burden. This white paper is a proposal for how to reboot impact measurement, grounded in perhaps the most uncomplicated activity of all: listening. Read more.

Closing the Feedback Loop: Can Technology Bridge the Accountability Gap?

Nicole Anand   |  July 2014

Using Amartya Sen’s capability approach to analyze technologies and citizen engagement, this book offers a global set of case studies on interventions designed and implemented to improve the delivery and quality of public services. Read more.

Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid

Anderson et al   |  2012

Based on evidence from the more than 6,000 people interviewed between 2005-2009 from more than 125 international and local aid organizations and in 20 aid-recipient countries, this book is a robust call to action for international aid to focus on feedback. Read more.

Using Citizen Feedback to Improve Local Government

Armstrong, Ben  |  March 2016

This blog post by MIT Gov/Lab showcases Pittsburgh as an example of local government addressing public safety concerns through citizen feedback. Read more.

Eliminating barriers to meaningful participation in humanitarian response

CDAC Network   |  2018

This article calls out the humanitarian community for its ineffectiveness between “the rhetoric and the reality” of listening to crisis-affected populations that it aims to serve. More importantly, the article surveys several CDAC case studies with “lessons learned” regarding what makes listening so hard and how to overcome these barriers. Read more.

CDA Collaborative: Mainstreaming of Accountability to Communities: An Operational Case Study

Cechvala, Sarah  |  2018

This case study of the Kenya Red Cross Society provides evidence for Accountability to Communities (AtC) working in a nonprofit/aid context. Read more.

The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good

Easterly, William |  2006

William Easterly categorizes those who attempt to improve the lives of others into Planners and Searchers: Planners tend to act without first-hand experience, and view development as something to be devised, calculated, projected, whereas searchers – those who look, observe, and listen to what people need, and then go out and create it – are the ones that drive the most impactful, if small, changes. Easterly calls for better feedback and accountability, which are inherent to Searchers. Read more.

Was Development Assistance a Mistake?

Easterly, William  |  2017

Bill Easterly rethinks whether development assistance was really a good idea. Development assistance was and is based on three underlying assumptions – 1) “we know what actions achieve economic development,” 2) “Our advice and money will make those correct actions happen, and 3) “we know who ‘we’ are” – that may actually all be false. Read more.

The Many Faces of Nonprofit Accountability

Ebrahim, Alnoor   |  2010

Ebrahim notes that the general status quo within the nonprofit sector is that more accountability is better, but with many definitions of what “accountability” means, he explains that this perception has led to an overexhaustion of accountability that may be ineffective rather than targeted. With regard to asymmetric relationships among stakeholders, Ebrahim showcases recent developments in the feedback movement, which seeks to make nonprofit accountability work for the people the nonprofits aim to serve. Read more.

Citizen participation in decision-making: can one make a difference?

Fitzgerald et al  |  2016

This paper addresses how citizen participation can influence data/tech policy and its impact on society. Looking at a case study of Irish citizens, “this paper reports a new methodology for gathering citizens’ perspectives on future decision-making policies on technology” and the pros and cons to such an approach. Read more.

Doing accountability differently: A proposal for the vertical integration of civil society monitoring and advocacy.

Fox et al   |  2016

The analysis addresses the implications of vertical integration for civil society coalition dynamics, and the distinction between independent policy monitoring and advocacy. The conclusions suggest that better donor coordination of civil society support can create opportunities for more integrated initiatives, taking advantage of critical entry points provided by sector-specific approaches. Read more.

Scaling Accountability Through Vertically Integrated Civil Society Policy Monitoring and Advocacy

Fox et al  |  2016

The analysis addresses the implications of vertical integration for civil society coalition dynamics, and the distinction between independent policy monitoring and advocacy. The conclusions suggest that better donor coordination of civil society support can create opportunities for more integrated initiatives, taking advantage of critical entry points provided by sector-specific approaches. Read more.

Breaking Through Stereotypes: How to Share the Patient’s Voice through Research and Technology

Interview with Susannah Rose (Cleveland Clinic)   |  April 2019

This podcast not only discusses the importance of transparency and feedback in healthcare, particularly in the case of cancer diagnoses and surgery wait times, but it also emphasizes the need for organizational empathy and how it can be channeled through technology. Highlighting patient advocacy groups as critical to patient empowerment in healthcare in the face of industry interests, the interviewer and interviewee focus on the need for healthcare to stay true to its mission, patient health. Read more.

What Social Sector Leaders Think About Feedback

Katie Smith Milway  |  January 2019

An SSIR survey of nearly 2,000 leaders of nonprofits, foundations, and other charitable organizations revealed that they believe feedback is important but still struggle with figuring out how to do it. Read more.

Learning from CRS’ Beneficiary Feedback Mechanism in the DRC

Luaba, Bruce  |  2018

This paper examines Catholic Relief Services’ success in implementing and operating a nationwide, toll-free beneficiary feedback hotline in the DRC. It goes a step further by acknowledging the operational and logistical issues this initiative created for CRS and how CRS addressed these issues – via a series of focus groups with beneficiaries and project participants. Read more.

The Impact of Open Data – Initial Findings from Case Studies

Luminate Group  |  2015

Open data is improving government, empowering citizens, creating new economic opportunities, and helping to solve big public problems – but there are still many obstacles. Not super feedback-related (more about transparency) but they still mention it. Read more.

Public value: how can it be measured, managed, and grown?

Mulgan et al   |  2019

This paper surveys public and social value – the importance of “outcomes, institutions and services” for citizens that may not be easily quantifiable or monetary in nature. It highlights case studies (and outcomes) – specific to the UK – in which citizen voice is put at the forefront, or at least integrated into decision making. Read more.

The Power of Feedback: Solving Wicked Problems through Listening and Learning

pfc Social Impact Advisors   |  October 2017

This paper looks at progress towards feedback being the expected thing. Many social sector organizations (CEO, the Diva Centres, Irvine’s Community Listening Sessions and the Fund for Shared Insight) are already convinced that community feedback loops are indeed the smart and right thing to do. Others (Keystone Accountability, Feedback Labs and Deliberate Leadership) have developed feedback loop frameworks specifically for the social sector and are tailoring methodologies like Design Thinking to the social sector to address Wicked Problems. Amidst these promising signs of progress, there is still much work to be done. Read more.

Of Governance and Revenue:Participatory Institutions and Tax Compliance in Brazil

Tiago P et al   |  March 2019

This paper showcases that the adoption of participatory budgeting in Brazil leads to the collection of up to 39% more tax revenues. Overall, the increase in municipal budgets is equivalent to roughly 40% of their capital investment spending. Read more.

Voice and Punishment: A Global Survey Experiment on Tax Morale

Tiago P et al  |  May 2019

This paper demonstrates that regardless of government systems, levels of development, and culture, citizens are more committed to tax compliance when they both are able to voice their preferences about government spending as well as learn about government oversight of public resources. Read more.

The Surprising Truth About Beneficiary Feedback

Xie & Sankaran  |  2014

Stanford Statistics for Good Group examined whether “courtesy bias” really exists among nonprofit sector clients by analyzing user feedback across 200,000 nonprofit reviews, specifically interested in food bank and homeless shelter reviews. The study found that, contrary to researchers’ hypothesis, “compared to clients of other kinds of nonprofits (such as environmental protection and education), clients of food banks and homeless shelters rated the nonprofits that serve them significantly lower than their peer groups” – suggesting that client evaluations are reliable. Read more.