One thing I’ll say for the old Croix Rouge is that they do decent guides and docs. Accountability is no different, or CEA as they put it. Community Engagement AND Accountability? You ask too much. But whilst there are a cacophony of competing acronyms in this sector already, why not add some more. You’ve had the 5i’s, and soon to get some r’s, so let’s go with c’s today. Sadly there aren’t 7 of them.
To give credit where it’s due, there is little new about what I’m about to share. It’s just a combination of 3 things: IFRC’s approach (CEA), Ground Truth Solution’s approach (the Constituent Voice cycle) with a little sprinkle of my ill-informed opinion. Put them all together and I think you have a fairly solid structure that acts as flow chart and check list.
|COMMUNICATE||About feedback options, about the programme, using various means as defined, ideally, from communication assessments|
|COLLECT||Reactive Mechanisms – e.g suggestion boxes and helplines|
Proactive Mechanisms – systematised feedback (more below)
|CRITIQUE||Analyse data, fuel internal discussion and focus group discussion with key stakeholders to add colour, depth and understanding to the stats|
|CLOSE (THE LOOP)||Feed back on the feedback – ultimately feeding communication and continuing the momentum in the cycle|
As I get round to implementing this kind of cycle myself I’ll add more detail into how it should work and then how/if it does. But the element to point out in particular is the use of proactive mechanisms of feedback. When we think of BFMs, CRMs, BPMs and other iterations of the same concept, we think of classic, reactive mechanisms. And by reactive I mean that we rely on people to give us feedback as and when they feel compelled or comfortable enough to do so. We just make the mechanisms. Be it through helplines, suggestion boxes, through leadership or direct communication with the team, we wait for people to tell us. And that leaves a gap.
The problem this presents itself is self-selection. If everyone felt equally comfortable and capable to feedback about any and all issues, we could worry about this less. But I’m British. And our best whinging is sadly saved for those not involved and, at the height of fury, the melting point of composure, we write sternly worded letters. Off. The. Chain. Luckily most national cultures are more advanced than that, however politeness certainly wasn’t conceived or perfected in my country of birth. So what to do about the self-selection malarkey? What we already do, just slightly differently.
It would be great to say this is all new and cutting edge and innovative, but it’s not. It’s derivative at best and it goes back to the idea of more frequent, light surveying to give an ongoing pulse check as opposed to large, artificial slices of mass-surveying. In a migration programme I’ve worked in we used 15 min exit surveys, followed by a second survey (usually done at distance / via the phone). But that’s in part to cope with the pragmatic issues pertaining to a highly dynamic population. Even with a static one, would small samples on a 1/4ly basis be too difficult? And would a cumulatively representative sample not add time-bound nuance if done in smaller packages as opposed to saving it all up for a midline or similar?
This is how I see proactive mechanisms boosting feedback and using constituent voice to drive adaptation. How I see a more fluid, dynamic project responding to light-touch surveys and insights. The beautiful secondary outcome is that it drives learning. It provides a structure, process and data set from which 1/4 reviews can reflect on and respond to feedback in an ongoing, genuinely adaptive fashion. And that’s where small tweaks to currently practices could start to have a significant shift in programme quality. And in community relations.
Sweeping generalisation aside, programme people tend to be pragmatic, resourceful, action oriented. Abstraction and theory is usually saved for late night discussions, often intoxicated by boredom or other such central nervous system depressants. There are plenty of valid critiques about techocratic influences, reductionism (bingo), over-simplification etc. and a lot of them that I talk to in my posts. But the people who have self selected into and been shaped by this industry, especially in programmes, generally reflect that system. It makes them very effective in a very many number of ways. But it’s a bias (just as being overly abstract is too). It’s one that can and should be challenged, and one that should also be respected. You don’t serve eggs to a vegan. You don’t speak to someone from Senegal in Greek (usually). So getting vague and abstract about reflection and learning and learning logs and taking time out to contemplate life – that’s not knowing or responding to your audience or their needs.
So ways around it? Provide the insight. Provide the structure. Provide the process and the tools. Use it as the framework from which the more transformative change can develop. Where all those processes of reflection and analysis are clearly linked with objectives, outputs and action. It’s simply putting learning into an appropriate language. And the great thing about that language? It’s roots are in action. Get the insight part covered and the desire and ability to action those changes will follow. In theory at least. C what I mean?