Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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Using Feedback Effectively in Peacebuilding Contexts

Author, Copyright Holder: 
DME for Peace, CDA
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The field of Peacebuilding Evaluation is increasingly moving to be more inclusive and participatory. A critical element of participatory and accountable peacebuilding programs are feedback mechanisms which provide an opportunity for individuals and groups affected by agencies’ programs or actions to influence how peacebuilding programs are designed, managed and evaluated. Feedback mechanisms are increasingly seen as important both for program monitoring and context monitoring. This post will share recent research and lessons learned on effective feedback practices in humanitarian settings, especially focused on lessons relevant to peacebuilding practitioners. 

On November 20, 2014, Isabella Jean of CDA Collaborative Learning presented findings from research on effective feedback practices conducted by CDA and The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP). CDA is also engaged in on-going research on feedback loops in peacebuilding and development programming and utilization of feedback in strategy and policy design. The presentation was a part of the Thursday Talk series hosted by the Network for Peacebuilding Evaluation here on DME for Peace. 

What is a Feedback Loop?

At the beginning of this research, CDA and ALNAP sought to find a definition for what is a feedback loop and a feedback mechanism? They found that both terms are used widely but there was not one common definition, so they proposed one as part of the research process. CDA andALNAP define a feedback mechanism as effective if at minimum it supports the supports the collection, acknowledgement, analysis and response to the feedback received. Where the loop is left open, the mechanism is not effective. A feedback mechanism is not merely the channel by which you gather feedback; a fully functional mechanism is illustrated in the chart below:

 

 

CDA-ALNAP researchers conducted field visits to Sudan/Darfur, Pakistan and Haiti and engaged with users of feedback at all levels: affected populations and individuals within program agencies, designers and managers of feedback mechanisms, senior management, and outside partners. The researchers looked very closely at utilization and the factors that enable utilization of feedback in decision-making. The result of their research was the practitioner guidance, “Closing the Loop:  Effective feedback in humanitarian contexts”. The guidance includes 15 guidance points for effective feedback practices 

Formal v Informal Approaches to Feedback 

There is no “right choice” between formal and informal feedback mechanisms. Isabella presented advantages to both options: 

  • Formal systems often have dedicated budgets for feedback functions and resources are allocated for capacity development (which is key), they also offer institutional continuity and stability in contexts with high turnover.
  • Informal systems are more responsive to changes in context and foster stronger relationship building with affected communities. 

The important lesson is that organizations should be intentional about their choice between informal and formal feedback mechanisms. The needs of those who will be using the feedback mechanisms and the feedback data it produces both internally and externally must be accounted for.  

Context Matters!

In peacebuilding, context is king. What does that look like for feedback mechanism design? Context appropriate design will consider both cultural and operational context, and address how different environments call for different mechanisms. An example provided was of gender dynamics in the case study in Pakistan, where women did not have access to cell phones and so new trends of ICTs would not be effective in that setting.

Isabella drew special attention to analysis of power dynamics, and explained that while explicit discussions of power continue to be difficult in most aid agencies, those conversations are necessary because power dynamics impact how feedback mechanisms are perceived and used. Providing feedback in conflict affected, authoritarian and restricted settings poses challenges and potential danger to those using the feedback channels. Also, the benefits of giving feedback must be greater than the risks for users. 

A participant in Isabella’s Thursday Talk asked, what are the best tools for understanding power dynamics? There are several tools used by development organizations such as community mapping that could be a good start for an organization to recognize their power and influence within a community and system. 

Communicating with Users 

When designing and implementing feedback mechanisms, consult with those who will be using the data inside your organization and among partners.  What information will be useful to the staff that will analyze and use the feedback to make decisions? 

Likewise, clearly define the purpose for the feedback mechanism for those who are expected to provide feedback.  This should include an informational analysis and information sharing so that users can provide relevant and informed feedback. 

A question was raised on how to manage internal perceptions of feedback as a threat. Some organizations or individuals might worry that inviting feedback will jeopardize their reputations and job security. Addressing such fear is why communication, awareness raising and internal advocacy is so critical to the success of an effective mechanism. Conveying the purpose of the feedback mechanism as non-threatening, but instead as part of accountable, ethical and effective practice focused on improving interventions and strategies, will help manage expectations and bring internal users on board.  

Necessary Resources

In existing feedback mechanisms, lots of attention has been given to setting up collection tools and channels for feedback, but less attention has been given to developing analytical processes necessary to work with the data. CDA and ALNAP found that too much priority on collection tools is unsustainable. Data must be sorted and analyzed to be useful and effective, so organizations need to plan ahead to allocate funding to support feedback data analysis; if an organization lacks the capacity to analyze their data, then that capacity building must be funded as well. 

Commitment to Response

There must be a tangible value to engaging in feedback mechanisms. Participants need to see value in providing their opinions and feedback, staff must see value in collecting and processing feedback, and management must see a value in feedback as an additional source of information and a responsibility.

To this same end of seeing value from the feedback mechanism, organizations must be honest with themselves and their program’s participants about how much flexibility they have to change direction of programs based on feedback responses. To install a feedback mechanism without any real ability to make changes undermines the purpose of an effective feedback loop.  

Reporting: Who Needs What? 

Once the feedback arrives, what will your organization do with it? Who needs to see it? In what format? How frequently? Feedback data should be presented to show what is new, what the trends in the data are, and what the action points are. To keep feedback relevant and usable, there should be a dedicated space and time for sharing and reflecting on feedback.  

Each feedback mechanism must also be designed with consideration of most efficient information flow between and within teams and vis-à-vis senior management. This flow will depend on an individual organization’s structure and culture. 

Big Picture Feedback

A final consideration highlighted by Isabella was what to do with unsolicited feedback. Unsolicited feedback may go beyond the scope of work of a single agency, but can provide “Big Picture Feedback” that can illuminate the need for large scale adjustments or strategy re-design. The successful analysis of and response to unsolicited feedback depends on how staff are trained and prepared to pass along the feedback up the management chain and beyond their agencies if necessary.

Isabella noted that the researchers saw cases where unsolicited feedback was dealt with effectively when it was aggregated and shared at the country level (i.e. humanitarian cluster system) for advocacy purposes. 

 

To hear the full presentation, and access Isabella's recommended readings on the topic, check out the Thursday Talk Discussion page here

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