Effectively Utilizing Feedback

Project Overview

The views and perspectives of people affected by international assistance are an important source of guidance for improving current and future practice.  CDA works with donors, operational agencies, their local partners and corporations to improve their feedback practices vis-à-vis aid recipients, program participants, local community members and citizens.

CDA’s recent field visits to conflict affected settings highlighted a range of barriers that operational agencies face with feedback collection, validation, response and overall stakeholder engagement in such settings.  Access, security, sensitivity around data collection, limited budgets for staff time in the field and weak data collection and analysis skills are key issues affecting many agencies.

Our collaborative learning process examines effective practices amidst operational and organizational challenges.  We are learning what makes feedback loops effective in long-term development, humanitarian and peacebuilding programs.

Learning Partners

Most Recent Publications


Isabella Jean, Former Director of Collaborative Learning and Evaluation

Sarah Cechvala, Senior Associate

What are feedback mechanisms?

A feedback mechanism is a set of procedures and tools formally established and used to allow humanitarian aid recipients (and in some cases other crisis-affected populations) to provide information on their experience of a humanitarian agency or of the wider humanitarian system. Feedback mechanisms can function as part of broader monitoring practices and can generate information for decision-making purposes. Feedback mechanisms collect information for a variety of purposes, including taking corrective action in improving some elements of the humanitarian response, and strengthening accountability towards affected populations. For one thing, they can help close the gaps between accountability rhetoric and practice. Currently, however, there is a need for evidence on what works, and doesn’t in different contexts. A feedback mechanism is seen as effective if, at minimum, it supports the collection, acknowledgement, analysis and response to the feedback received, thus forming a closed feedback loop. Where the feedback loop is left open, the mechanism is not fully effective.

The importance of utilizing feedback

Feedback is a critical element of participatory and accountable humanitarian action and development and peacebuilding engagements. Feedback processes are one way of giving those who are involved with and affected by agencies’ programs or actions a voice in how these programs are designed, managed and evaluated. Feedback is solicited and unsolicited opinion, criticism, complaint, praise and/or suggestion communicated in a verbal or written form, through formal or informal channels. A closed feedback loop is achieved when feedback is acknowledged and a timely response is provided and/or corrective action is taken to address the issue of concern. Feedback from aid recipients, program participants, local partners and citizens also facilitates improvements in program quality and service delivery. Feedback, when gathered regularly, triangulated and validated, serves as a set of data for decision-making, performance management and quality improvement. It is an important element of maintaining an accountable and constructive relationship.

Key Lessons from Previous Projects

Humanitarian Feedback Mechanisms Research

Between 2012-2014, CDA partnered with the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) to study the effectiveness of humanitarian feedback mechanisms. The research team conducted field visits to Darfur, Pakistan and Haiti to document effective feedback practices at the operational level in active emergency settings. The research led to the publication of three case studies, a literature review, a main research study, and practitioner guidance for operational agencies seeking to improve their feedback practices. [read more]

Access and Beneficiary Feedback Pilots

Between 2013-2014, CDA participated in a consortium with ITAD and Development Initiatives to evaluate the UK Department for International Development (DFID)-commissioned efforts of its Access and Beneficiary Feedback Pilots Programme. The Research and Impact Evaluation component was tasked to deliver evidence-based guidance to DFID on effective models for ensuring transparency and feedback loops. CDA managed the first evaluation of a feedback pilot implemented by the International Organization for Migration in a shelter program in flood-affected areas of Pakistan. [read more]

The Listening Project

CDA’s Listening Project organized teams of “listeners” across 20 countries and contexts to gather the voices, insights, and lessons from people both inside and outside the aid system. In the book Time to Listen CDA represents the lessons that have come forth through conversations with nearly 6,000 people. Using their words, their experiences, and their ideas, we describe why the cumulative impacts of aid have not met expectations and describe a way forward to make changes that, according to those on the receiving end, will lead to more effective results. [Read more]