Taking Feedback Seriously at Plan International

Kai Hopkins

Kai Hopkins

There is a growing understanding that constituent feedback is crucial to development work. The terms “feedback” and “listening” now permeate our collective discussions, so much so that Lucy Bernholz has made “Constituent Feedback” one of the top buzzwords in her recently published Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014.

As Lucy notes, however, feedback is not always simple.

Well, let me refine that point. Some aspects of feedback are relatively easy; some commonly require some purposeful organizational development. To oversimplify a bit, you can collect accurate, actionable and reliable feedback by hiring a consultant to do it. But using that feedback to improve requires leadership, confidence and short-cycle learning habits that can take some time to come together. They cannot be out-sourced to consultants.

We see this realization hitting home often with the international NGOs that subscribe to the Keystone Development Partnership survey . Through the survey, their partners give them powerful feedback that identifies problems and even points to solutions. And then they realize they are not sure what to do; that the Partnership Survey in itself is only the first step to improving their effectiveness.

There is now a new place where they can look for ideas and inspiration.

Plan International, a subscriber to the Development Partner Survey, has published a review of their approach to feedback: Feedback Systems: Next Steps for Plan International. The paper includes a short review of current initiatives, major lessons learned, good practice principles, and Plan’s next steps.

Plan has clearly internalized the need to see feedback as a system that requires multiple steps to move from data to action to improvements. It shows how feedback systems can provide crucial information, which can be used to ensure it continually responds to local people’s real priorities – and to strengthen its accountability to those people. The need for internal organizational capacity to move from data to action is highlighted is the recruitment for a new position – feedback specialist. The required qualifications listed in the job description emphasize an understanding of  “how to make management systems work”.

I recommend you read the Plan report as you think about your own approach to getting serious about feedback.

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