Listening Leads to Better Outcomes

April 12, 2013 | Dayna Brown

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A recent article in the Spring 2013 edition of the Stanford Social Innovation Review on Listening to Those Who Matter Most, the Beneficiaries captures many of the same challenges and opportunities we highlight in Time to Listen. The authors believe (as we do) that:

“Listening to beneficiaries is both the right and the smart thing to do. Beneficiary perceptions are an underdeveloped source of information that can improve practice, leading to better outcomes. This isn’t a mere assertion on our part: a growing body of research demonstrates the link between beneficiary perceptions and beneficiary outcomes.”

They then show how listening to the voices of high school students and hospital patients in the US has led to significant improvements and lasting changes in the schools and hospitals—and ultimately in the lives of students and patients.

As the authors of this article and we have pointed out, companies know that they need to listen to their “customers” to be effective. But too often social service providers—in the US and abroad—see listening as an “add-on”, something that is nice but not necessary. The article talks about the challenges of convincing managers in the social sector that beneficiary views are an important source of information, of creating the incentives to listen to those who are meant to benefit, and putting in place systems to ensure that their experiences and views are heard consistently and systematically.   These are all very familiar challenges to us!  But the article also provides evidence about the importance of overcoming these challenges if we are serious about improving outcomes.

I could not agree more with the authors saying, “There is certainly a moral argument for listening to the people you seek to help. Who among us would want others deciding what is right for us without being asked how we feel about it and how we are in experiencing it? But the cases in health care and education demonstrate that there is also an essential effectiveness argument for hearing from those we want to help.”  What I found encouraging is that the evidence they gathered from the education and healthcare sectors shows that quality and effectiveness are improved when social service providers really listen to those who matter most.  I know there is even more evidence on the importance of listening and acting on feedback from the intended beneficiaries of international development efforts—we just need to share it and act on it to really improve the lives of those who are meant to benefit.


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