August 6, 2009

Constituent Voice

An emerging solution to the problems of assessment is: “Ask them!”.

Organizations can ask the people who are intended to benefit from social change what they think about plans, performance and reports. We call this Constituent Voice.

Constituent Voice is a tool to manage performance rather than a form of evaluation, and used in all our surveys. Still, feedback data is an early indicator of change taking place and can be triangulated with other evidence of results (including objective measures and impact evaluations) to enrich your understanding of what is happening now. It is often predictive of future outcomes.

In developing the Constituent Voice method, Keystone has drawn from tested customer satisfaction techniques, and has adapted them to the context of development where people’s choice is often limited by the monopolistic position of aid agencies and government service providers.

How do we know if [the people] are better off, whether they gain or lose from our projects? The answer is to ask them. They are the experts on their own condition.
Prof Robert Chambers, Institute of Development Studies (IDS)

Organizations can systematically manage how much all constituents are involved in their work. For instance, organizations can systematically:

  • ensure that all relevant constituents are involved in planning projects and defining success;
  • ask for feedback from constituents on the organization’s work;
  • report feedback and other performance measures back to constituents, as the basis for reflection, future planning and action; and
  • manage your performance to constituent voice evidence, findings and conclusions.

All these activities aim to build better dialogue and stronger relationships with other constituents.

They also contribute across the different purposes of assessment. The process of assessment can build capacity and legitimacy. It can shift power dynamics and make organizations more accountable to primary constituents. Quantified summaries of constituents’ feedback can provide credible performance data to managers and funders on the things that matter most.

We believe that this Constituent Voice approach offers a new and better model for planning, assessing and reporting social change.

Please also read our Really busy person’s guide to constituent voice.

We have also produced a technical note on Constituent Voice that goes into greater detail on the methodology: Technical Note 1 – Constituent Voice.

Keystone uses Net Promoter Analysis to analyse Constituent Voice feedback data.

A Related Case: Consumer Rights & Customer Feedback

In 1962, President John F. Kennedy issued a Special Message to Congress launching the Consumer Rights movement. It noted that consumers “are the only important group in the economy … whose views are often not heard”.

Half a century later, detailed customer feedback data on virtually any product or service is freely available on-line. A whole industry has grown up to collect and deliver consumer satisfaction data to decision-makers. Research has proved the correlation between customer satisfaction and long term growth, profitability and shareholder value.

Paraphrasing President Kennedy, we might say that primary constituents are the only important group in the social economy whose views are often not heard. Are we in social change at our 1962 moment?

We recognise that these are complex processes and that many people have been wrestling with them for years. Keystone’s work builds on years of participatory practice as well as innovations from customer feedback.

We want to be the first to say that new approaches that we advocate are not yet proved. We are keenly aware of the risks they bring of misrepresenting different peoples’ views and worsening power imbalances.

In addition, we identified a repeated difficulty in the incentives for using feedback systems. Various factors appear to discourage managers from implementing feedback systems. They include the volume of work staff face, the costs of implementation, conflicts with other approaches and the way priorities are shaped by donors and senior managers. Comparative data has changed norms in some sectors, by creating shared reporting standards. We believe a good entry point is to encourage managers to: “report constituents’ satisfaction”.

Keystone’s Constituent Voice methodology is now being used to provide feedback to global companies from the vulnerable people in their supply chains. For example, see the coVox website.

Our services set out how we work with organizations. We publish tools and the results of our work in the resources section.

As with all our tools and method published on this website, Constituent Voice operates on an “open source” model. We invite free use and adaptation. In order to optimize learning and coherence in an open process of methodology develpment, CV is registered under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.