In order to ensure the effectiveness of international aid, agencies must systematically listen to and meaningfully engage people that they aim to support in decisions that affect their lives.
Drawing from Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid we argue that this should not be done through the typical check-box methods many organizations currently practice. Rather it should be done through allowing local people to play a decisive role in all aspects of programing – from resource allocation to program development.
Nonetheless, we are aware that the challenges of gathering feedback in restricted settings are many. Where and how do organizations begin and what is the incentive for those in the current aid delivery system to change it? We believe that we can learn a lot by understanding how aid organizations currently gather and use feedback from those they work with and mean to serve.
CDA and ALNAP have recently released a case study describing World Vision’s (WV) feedback practices in its food assistance programming in the Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps in South Darfur in Sudan. This case study, “We are Committed to Listen to You: World Vision’s experience with humanitarian feedback mechanisms in Darfur” is the first in a series that examines the effectiveness of feedback processes and systems for gathering, analyzing and using feedback from affected people to improve programming in humanitarian contexts.
World Vision Sudan uses several different methods for gathering feedback from IDPs in the camps where they provide food aid, including:
- Community Help Desk (CHD) is the primary channel through which WV Sudan solicits and receives feedback from camp residents about its food assistance. The presence of CHDs during all food distributions allows people to provide feedback and make suggestions in a non-threatening way. CHDs are staffed by two volunteer ‘focal points’ who are camp residents selected for this role by a committee of fellow camp residents and WV staff. Focal points are trained and encouraged to resolve simple questions on the spot. Feedback data from CHD logbooks is analyzed by the team is regularly reported to food distribution team and senior management.
- Feedback Boxes are located outside the temporary school building where WV’s school feeding programs take place. The form invites the pupils and teachers at the school to provide suggestions, feedback and complaints related to World Vision programs and staff conduct. Feedback forms are provided in English and Arabic, and WV has committed to provide a response in less than 2 weeks.
- Informal Feedback Channels which include periodic community meetings that include staff from all departments of World Vision, post-distribution monitoring visits, children’s committee meetings. Camp leaders and residents have also used phone calls and office visits to raise questions and issues with staff.
These formal and informal mechanisms have led to successful program modifications and allowed for improved program design and implementation. The case study highlights some of the changes that have been made based on the feedback received through WV’s mechanisms, including:
- Adding and improving extra-curricular programming for children.
- Enhancing the structures of temporary school buildings.
- Improving the shaded spaces used during food distribution.
- Including more appropriate food in the food rations.
- Introducing a milling voucher program that helps mitigate the challenges that camp residents had with milling the grain they received as part of the food rations.
Before some of these changes were made, WV staff supplemented the feedback data with additional monitoring and market survey data in order to modify on-going implementation steps and approaches.
These explicit efforts to listen to and respond to local feedback, represent a small step towards the paradigm shift that needs to occur within individual aid agencies and in the aid system as a whole. If organizations can listen well in an environment as challenging as the IDP camps in Darfur, there is hope that we can meaningfully engage people in efforts that are meant to improve their lives in all contexts.
By Isabella Jean, Co-Director Collaborative Learning, CDA