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United States: Listening for Good (and Bad) Feedback in the Social Sector

United States: Listening for Good (and Bad) Feedback in the Social Sector

FeedbackFeedback loops are nothing new, but they’re growing more and more visible each day. The pop ups on websites asking you about your visit. The follow-up email you receive after making a purchase on Amazon. The dreaded paper-and-pen forms you have to fill out…well, it seems, everywhere. The importance of collecting – and acting on – customer feedback is well-understood across the private sector, but just starting to infiltrate thinking and operations in the social sector.

Across the social sector – from foundations, to nonprofits, to grassroots community groups – there is a growing demand for transparency. Funders and donors are increasingly asking these organizations to embrace and learn from failure, and to demonstrate that they’ve actually made changes because of it.  Some organizations, like Feedback Labs in Washington, DC are advancing not only the development of new forms of feedback, but also the practice of how organizations can effectively integrate it into their work.theorychange

One key initiative recently covered in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Listen for Good, is an initiative of the
Fund for Shared Insight (FSI). FSI is a funding collaborative that includes some heavy-hitting national foundations, including the Ford Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the Hewlett Foundation, among others. Over 40 organizations are currently receiving funding to actively implement feedback loops into their work.

Grantees from the project have already started sharing lessons learned on the mechanics of collecting feedback, open insight that could eventually be applied across the entire social sector. Even more importantly, these organizations are learning first-hand how to proactively address problems to improve the client experience, and their outcomes.

GoBuffaloMomUnited Way of Buffalo & Erie County recently won a Listen for Good grant, which will be used to listen to clients at a variety of local services providers, from Belmont Housing Resources of WNY to local Women Infants and Children offices. The initiative is part of an overall project called GO Buffalo Mom, a collaboration aimed at improving access to prenatal healthcare for low-income moms in the city.

Another Fund for Shared Insight grantee is the Center for Employment Opportunities, a nonprofit working to reduce recidivism across four states (NY, PA, OK, CA). CEO is currently using an SMS-based feedback system to efficiently and discretely collect feedback from their clients. Since implementing the feedback system less than a year ago they have already changed the start times of some of their programs, added key pieces of information that may have been overlooked (maps, job descriptions), and closed the feedback loop by transparently sharing changes with clients.

As the voice of the customer, client, and beneficiary becomes more and more necessary for good program design and meaningful transparency, expect to see feedback loops taking a front-row seat  in nonprofit and foundation operations.


Research Consultant

Aaron Krolikowski is an independent research consultant based in Buffalo, NY, USA. Working globally, he explores the intersection of technology, development, and public service provision.

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