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How Can We Better Manage Informal Feedback?

By Guest Writer on November 14, 2016


Institutional deficits persistently obstruct our ability to ‘close the feedback loop.’ The most valuable community feedback is often given informally or face to face and is largely left undocumented.

  • Are organisations doing enough to make sure feedback mechanisms meet community needs and preferences?
  • Where are the tools to enable us to improve these processes and better manage informal feedback?

During MERL Tech in DC, Oxfam set a challenge to those attending our session on how we can better manage informal feedback and ‘close the feedback loop’.

What Would You Do?

Objective: Use ICTs to support field staff to capture currently undocumented informal feedback which is received face-to-face. Hint: ‘last mile’ setting

The session was set-up for attendees to explore how they would tackle four key challenge areas:

  1. Research and marketplace – thinking about the requirements for the teams on the ground as well as organisational considerations
  2. Designing the workflow – user-centred design, roles and responsibilities, referral mechanism for follow-up
  3. Operations – responsible data, team engagements, staff turnover
  4. Reporting – developing internal incentives to use the results


Organization:  Mid-size INGO, 2 part-time staff
Budget:  £20,000
Time Frame:  6 months
Project Location:  Refugee camp
Project Description:  Digital Feedback Mechanism
Project Language:  Arabic
Collection Method:  Mobile

Not so coincidentally, these were also the conditions Oxfam worked within while setting up our informal feedback collection pilot in Za’atari refugee camp. Oxfam is in the midst of tackling some of these barriers by piloting the use of mobile case-management systems to support field staff to capture undocumented informal feedback which is received face-to-face.

Organisations use SMS and phone hotlines to gather complaints remotely, but few have ventured down the path of case management systems to monitor what happens after feedback has been received (or so it seems – have you used case management outside of mHealth? We’d love to learn more!)

Issues raised by attendees were similar to those that Oxfam has also faced including:

  1. Protecting sensitive matters confided to staff in person – Oxfam chose to exclude protection issues from this system due to security concerns. This means most of our data pertains to issues of quality and quantity of direct services like water access and livelihoods.
  2. Increasing access to marginalized groups – Oxfam disseminated access to the application throughout a broad variety of the Oxfam team in Za’atari – not just high-level management or mid-level team leaders but down to the refugee volunteers who staff the community centres and are critical to our understanding of daily life in the camp. We recognize issues of bias and exclusion remain pervasive and will continue to explore new ways to address them.
  3. Finding the right tool – flexible case management was not easy to come by which could fit the requirements for last mile areas in multiple languages. Why isn’t there a peer reviewed site which lists tech options for ICT4D? Instead of product rankings, we propose a simple site that features two lists: an ICT4D Tool Repository List with links to organizations and real projects that have used them; and Research Resource List like The Engine Room’s Tool Selection Assistant (we’re looking at you, ICTWorks).
  4. Budgetary constraints – the budget wasn’t a barrier due to Oxfam’s buy-not-build policy. The key was finding the right balance between finding a subscription with the necessary features and the ability to remain agile, allowing for short iterative test cycles that incorporated reflections and enhancements suggested by our users. And of course, was sustainable and scalable cost wise.
  5. Organizing the influx of information being collected (too much, too quickly and it becomes unmanageable) – Oxfam updated workflow systems and facilitated discussions amongst staff to delegate responsibility. These responsibilities were contingent on job role not a person to accommodate for expected staff turnover. We categorized the types of complaints we received and had the system automatically refer and assign categories to staff. More detail about this
  6. Converting learning to action – this is the area deemed most significant and where we turn our focus as we consider bringing this system to scale. While marshalling the meaningful use of reporting and analytics, Oxfam’s procedures must also become more elastic to accommodate program adaptation that responds systematically to feedback.

You can follow our progress on the project here and the evaluation report will be published next month.

By Grace Higdon, Oxfam GB; Emily Tomkys, Oxfam GB with visual note-taking by Katherine Haugh

Filed Under: Thought Leadership
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