Those of us working in social impact are sometimes guilty of throwing around a few jargony words and phrases – “scaling,” “end-user,” “prototyping,” and the list could go on. These phrases are born out of the social innovation field and human-centered design thinking process. As someone who works on developing programs that combine design thinking with policymaking and social impact, it can be easy to forget that this jargon can be confusing and overwhelming if you haven’t yet been exposed to the world of design-thinking.
This is exactly why I found it so refreshing to attend the Feedback Summit hosted by Feedback Labs last week. Rather than getting bogged down in the design process, Feedback Labs has managed to succinctly define what the design-thinking movement is all about — feedback. Whether it was feedback on a foundation’s grant proposal process, feedback to an NGO on how they’re delivering humanitarian aid, or feedback to an emerging social enterprise on how they’re building their product, two full days were spent demonstrating the importance of feedback in social impact.
I learned a few things during my time at the Feedback Summit:
1.) Feedback is at the heart of social impact work — No one really questions a corporation or business that seeks to understand their consumer through focus groups, surveys, or customer experience mapping. Why not? Because it makes complete sense that any entity offering a service would want to understand the person they are serving. This is no different in social impact, except for one key point – in social impact work, the “end-user” should not just be an unnamed participant in a focus group, but should be someone with equal voice in shaping the service, program, or experience being offered. Feedback in social impact is based on mutual respect, equal footing, and open dialogue between service provider and beneficiary. Your work might be well-intentioned, but without bringing the beneficiary along for the ride with you as you design your service, your impact is likely not maximized.
2.) Feedback is an iterative process — Now that you recognize how important it is to bring your constituency along with you while you are designing your program, it should be easy to understand that feedback cannot be just a one-time thing. Feedback is iterative and ongoing. There should always be open lines of communication between a service-provider and beneficiary, always an eagerness to quickly close feedback loops, and always a willingness to even revisit how the feedback is being conveyed. That quarterly survey you send to your grantees might yield some interesting insights, but may not be the best way to gather feedback. Instead of sending out the same email every three months, ask your grantees if they have ideas for alternative ways to discuss your partnership.
3.) Feedback is a movement — If anyone has any doubts that a feedback movement is taking place, all they need to do is check out the Feedback Summit next year. It was inspiring to see all the people and organizations willing to take two full days in breakout sessions, lab storms, and group dialogues to learn how they can become better advocates, stewards, and consumers of feedback within their own organizations. This movement is based in the genuine belief that beneficiaries are not just people to be served, but rather, communities to partner with. The movement is based in listening, open-mindedness, and a willingness to admit that sometimes you could do your work better. The movement is humble but powerful, and I’m excited to see where it goes.
At the Baker Center, we sometimes use the human-centered design process as a framework to convey the important values that also came out of the Feedback Summit — that policymaking or social impact work must be done in partnership with beneficiaries, through a continuous feedback loop and partnership. But, the Feedback Summit reminded me of an important lesson — sometimes cutting through the jargon and boiling a process down to its core element is what helps it stick.
Feedback can be complex, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. At the end of your day, remember the importance of listening, empathy, and taking action with integrity and you are well on your way to social impact.
Photo from Feedback Labs