Feedback to Action: Strategies to improve the use of feedback in programmatic decision-making

February 2018 | IRC and CDA

This report is the result of a joint CDA-International Rescue Committee research funded by the US State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration.

From the Executive Summary

This study aims to identify factors that enable feedback utilization in programmatic decision-making within humanitarian agencies. Our own experience and preliminary research suggest that beneficiary feedback, though deemed important, often gets ‘crowded out’ by other types of information during decision-making processes. This is particularly the case when staff are under time and resource constraints. Acknowledging the very human problem of feeling stressed to make decisions when there usually is more information to consider than choices and time available, we pulled on behavioral science to identify strategies and tools that can ease decision-making under such conditions. We hypothesized that if provided with tools and support to ease the process of decision-making, humanitarian agency staff will be more likely to use the feedback they have gathered.

To test this hypothesis, we shared these decision-making tools and guidance with 51 refugee and IDP-serving non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) operating in both urban and rural Uganda. Prior to the intervention, we collected baseline data on feedback practices within these organizations. Four months after a workshop that brought the organizations together to use the tools and learn from each other, we administered a follow-up survey. We also conducted action research and provided coaching support to a small subset of the participants. This component allowed for qualitative institutional analysis through interviews with staff at different levels as well as focus group discussions with beneficiaries and other stakeholders.

The study yielded indicative yet important findings. Though not statistically significant, there were substantive differences in two areas between baseline and follow-up: More agencies reported using feedback in five or more meetings in the last two months and more agencies reported using feedback to make small changes to programming or implementation. The action research identified several institutional factors as most likely to enable feedback including

(i) consistent internal processes (e.g. training for all staff and standard operating procedures for feedback collection and handling);

(ii) internal learning and reflection processes and

(iii) strong senior leadership buy-in to prioritize and resource feedback processes.

The challenges of resourcing systems, handling negative feedback and developing common platforms for processing feedback persist. Despite the small sample size and the inability to completely attribute changes to the tools and support we provided, this study shows the promise of improving feedback use through even light-touch tools and through continued strengthening and investment in the nascent processes that organizations are steadily putting in place.

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