Ringing out 2013 and a modest overture for 2014

David Bonbright

David Bonbright

As 2013 comes to a close, I write to thank you for your interest in our work to advance Constituent Voice as a tool to solve important societal problems. Topics like performance management, real time data, continuous improvement and downward accountability may make most people’s eyes glaze over — but not yours! Thank you!

2013 was a break through year for Keystone.

We are blessed with a geographically and thematically diverse group of clients and partners who do everything from agriculture extension to carpet manufacturing. You are showing us just how powerful — and how widely applicable — Constituent Voice can be. We know it is not always comfortable to be method innovators. We hope you find it as exciting and fun as we do. Thank you for the co-creation!

This past year we launched a for-profit counterpart to Keystone to cultivate Constituent Voice along global supply chains. coVox is working with global brands to transform “social risk” into social value by listening systematically to the vulnerable people in their supply chains. These are the millions of workers who manufacture consumer electronics, clothes, toys, carpets, and so on. They are also people living in the communities around plantations, mines and drilling operations. And the smallholder producers in the global food chain

coVox is showing companies how to listen to these people in ways that simultaneously improve corporate productivity and provide better livelihoods. Our clients may come to us to burnish their reputations but they soon learn that CV is a powerful tool to solve core business problems.

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The world is starting to recognize the importance of Constituent Voice. What a welcome change this is from 9 years ago when we started Keystone. One of my stock phrases has been that CV is the most neglected important piece of the measurement puzzle. Not the only important piece, but the most neglected one. Maybe 2014 is the year I will have to stop using this line!

As evidence, I point to four recent high profile events. First, in his speech to the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and IMF last October, World Bank President Jim Kim made this commitment, “[W]e must become a better listener. Last year, we had beneficiary feedback on 34 percent of our projects. We promise that for our projects with clear beneficiaries, we will get feedback – from every single one of them, 100 percent.”

Second, the world’s largest charity rating agency, Charity Navigator, incorporated CV into its rating model. From 2016, America’s charities will be rated on whether they publish empirically valid feedback from those they claim to benefit.

Third, what is arguably the most widely read and respected annual report in American philanthropy, Lucy Bernholz’s Blueprint 2014, highlights “constituent feedback” as a key trend going forward.

Fourth, just this week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy together with the Hewlett Foundation convened a daylong meeting on citizen feedback loops. In his opening remarks to the group, the WHOSTP Deputy Director Tom Kalil suggested that feedback loops be included in a list of major social policy innovations that included the use of tiered evidence, open data and the application of behavioral economics to the design of social programs.

So maybe 2013 will be the year we look back on as the year that CV arrived! Of course, we have a very long way to go, and so much to learn, to fulfill our dream that all organizations systematically cultivate voice with their constituents.

Which brings me to our modest overture for 2014. We need your vote to win funding to build what we believe is a breakthrough tool for enabling any organization to undertake high quality CV work at very low cost. You can learn more about this tool here, on the website of the Making All Voices Count Grand Challenge “seeking solutions to close the feedback loop between governments and citizens.”

We are one of 196 who have entered the competition. We believe our proposal to provide a feedback data sharing platform is a genuine game changer for the emerging field of CV. But it is also nerdy — the value and power of benchmarking management data is an acquired taste. It is more Your Local Hackathon than it is Tahrir Square.

All the best for 2014! May it be a year full of Voice (and closed feedback loops).

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