The One Thing Everyone Should Do Now to Improve Program M&E
November 9, 2014 Editor 0
There is a simple solution that is useful throughout the project cycle, takes 10 minutes to set up, is used by millions of organizations worldwide but seldom used in development. What could it be?
Citizens and clients have valuable feedback they want to provide that can help improve the success of programs. However, systems are seldom in place to take their feedback on their own terms. Instead clients need to wait for a field agent to show up at their doorstep with a clipboard to ask their opinion, which may only happen once a year. This lack of feedback deprives development organizations of valuable insights and leaves all of the power for feedback with the organization and not the client.
The Feedback Phone Number
For years governments and private sector companies ranging from New York City to Washington, DC, or Best Buy to Delta Airlines have used 311 or 1-800 number feedback lines to hear from users about what is and isn’t working.
This technology enables clients to connect with organizations on their own time and terms without ever leaving their own home. The feedback line can be automated, have a real person to respond, or some combination of the two. The line gives clients an opportunity to share what they feel is or isn’t working and can include key questions the organizations are interested in.
“1-800-4-Development” in Action
There is a massive uptake of mobile phones in many countries. We now have software and companies that can set up a toll-free number for automated feedback collection in under an hour. Every business, government, and civil society organization serving developing markets should have its own “1-800” feedback line.
Here are a few examples of organizations doing just that:
- Real-time Feedback:The African Women’s Lawyer Association (AWLA) is improving the quality of the judiciary in Ghana. Citizens engaging with the courts often have complaints but it is hard for them to lodge them. Across 15 districts in Ghana, AWLA has partnered with VOTO to launch a call-in line for citizens to report a complaint about the judiciary. The call-in line is receiving 50 calls a week and AWLA has created a complaint function that is in charge of responding to the specific complaints and then identifying trends and feeding those into program design and implementation priorities.
- Customer Support:A clean stove company puts a toll-free number on the product for customers to call-in to register their product and to seek support. The call-in line reduces delivery times for replacement parts.
- Product Improvement: With an automated call-in line, we have seen social enterprises find an 80/20 rule with 80% of support inquires being related to only 20% of the support issues – enabling the product operations team to focus limited resources on fixing the product problems that frustrate the most users.
- Expanding Participation:Impassion Afghanistan has set-up a dedicated phone number for female journalists to call-in to report stories of peace and progress from their communities with the results crowd-sourced to international media outlets.Farm Radio International provides a call-in line during their agriculture radio programs for farmers to respond to polls and to provide input on the show.
All these examples enable the organizations to be responsive to individual user needs and get valuable input to improve the design of their current and future programs.
More Than Just a Phone Number
While setting up and promoting the call in line is quick and straightforward responding to the requests is not. For callers’ voices to be heard an organization must invest resources into taking action on the feedback. The simple version of this is to have a person in charge of reviewing feedback and personally calling or dispatching field staff to resolve the issues raised.
If users call in with feedback and no action is taken they may lose trust in the mechanism and organization, but when feedback is heard and acted upon their trust deepens and their willingness to provide feedback in the future is strengthened. Research in government 311 systems shows that respondents who see action taken based on their feedback are 25% more likely to participate in further feedback.
Whether reporting a water-well isn’t working, providing feedback on an elected official, or getting support for a clean stove – there should be a number for that.
This post was written by Levi Goertz and Kevin Schuster of VOTO Mobile, who presented this point at M&E Tech DC
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