Listening To Those Who Matter Most

From: The Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2013, "Listening To Those Who Matter Most: The Beneficiaries"

Experts and crowds can produce valuable insights. But too often nonprofits and funders ignore the constituents who matter most, the intended beneficiaries of our work: students in low-performing schools, trainees in workforce development programs, or small farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. In bypassing the beneficiary as a source of information and expertise, we deprive ourselves of insights into how we might do better-insights that are uniquely grounded in the day-to-day experiences of the very people the programs are created for."Perhaps we really don't trust the beneficiaries point of view. Maybe we're fearful of what they might say-that without the benefit of 'expertise' they might be misinformed or wrong. Perhaps we're scared that we will learning something that calls our approach into question. Maybe we don't know how tot solicit beneficiary feedback routinely in a way that is reliable, rigorous, and useful. Or perhaps incentives aren't aligned to value sufficiently the insights we have gathered."

Feedback loops are distorted in the social sector; thus, how can we "seek and use the voice of the beneficiary…" in making decisions for their regard?

Programs around the world have begun to attempt to give beneficiaries voice through "Yelp-like" feedback reviews. Some projects include The Listening Project (beneficiary surveys) , GlobalGiving's Storytelling Project (local insights on change), GreatNonprofits ("Yelp-Like" reviews of organizations and social services), and Keystone Accountability (beneficiary voice), amongst others, are highlighted by Stanford. The main focus remains: how can we give voice to beneficiaries, in a truly progressive manner, respectful of the power dynamics at play with development organizations, projects, and local workers for agencies, who often exist in a parallel universe with organizational beneficiaries? How can we focus truly on reality and understand that some distortion will inevitably be a part of feedback, regardless of our best efforts? And where can we take these distortions into account and truly incorporate beneficiary feedback into program design?

Education and Beneficiary Feedback

"Colleges and universities have for decades used rigorously collected student survey data to guide improvement efforts. Increasingly, we see interest in using student survey data to assess and improve high schools and middle schools as well." Is it possible, in the developing world context with a weak administrative apparatus, and highly constraining cultural norms, to administer student surveys of teachers? The limitations of these systems in the rich world have been well documented: a lack of actual change resulting from the information, poor design, and student dissatisfaction with the process, in addition to a lack of funding for student-focused initiatives. Once feedback data is collected, what is actually done with it is the critical step. Regularity of a process, repeating the process so that it is not seen as so many other "one-off" interventions, is additionally crucial to gaining student trust and garnering factual feedback. Empowering the students themselves to participate in the process has been achieved through technology in the Western world, a great societal leveler in itself; how can we harness the power of mobile technology platforms in the developing world to perform the same basic feedback functions for schooling? How can we use the relative cost-effective mobile texting platforms in this manner? How can these technologies be used in environments with limited literacy and technical proficiency?