Social Impact Academy: Listening and Responding to Community Feedback

Social Impact Academy: Listening and Responding to Community Feedback

We were joined on Wednesday by David Bonbright from Keystone Accountability, Sophie Sahaf from LIFT, and Sarah Hennessy from Feedback Labs for a discussion on community feedback in the fourth session of the Social Impact Academy. We learned that community feedback is a powerful tool for informing programmatic direction and achieving social impact. Gathering feedback can be done cheaply, but it should always be done systematically.

Session recording:

Session summary:

David Bonbright, Chief Executive, Keystone Accountability

Keystone Accountability uses a practice called Constituent Voice.

Constituent Voice:

  • An assessment method which asks the people intended to benefit from social change what they think about plans, performance, and reports. It helps organizations become more effective within the communities they serve.
  • Constituent Voice requires building relationships. After you ask for feedback data you must report back to respondents.Let them know what feedback you received and what you plan to do.
  • These relationships lead to data improvement. The process of asking and discussing issues with the community lets people understand why they are being questioned. This encourages the community to give more useful feedback and data for future surveys.

Use this systemic approach to move from discussion to action:

  1. Design: You don’t have to ask 30 questions to get meaningful feedback, just ask one powerful one: “How likely would you be to recommend my company to a friend or colleague?”
  2. Collect: Perform micro-surveys, made up of 3-4 questions, continuously and record the data; it doesn’t cost much!
  3. Analyze: Once you have data, analyze it. There’s a lot you can learn using segmentation. Compare your responses with other organizations in your sector. The feedback commons will soon include a feature which allows comparison.
  4. Close the loop: This is the dialogue phase. Have a discussion with participants asking them meaningful clarifying questions.
  5. Course correct: You must follow through with improvements and communicate your actions to stakeholders. Repeat the process; it is cyclical!

Borrow techniques from the for-profit sector:

  • Keystone Accountability encourages use of the Net Promoter Score which asks the simple question: “On a scale from 0 – 10, How likely are you to recommend my organization to a colleague or friend?” Respondents are sorted into three categories: promoters (9-10) , passives (7-8), and detractors (0-6). The Net Promoter Score, however, is a quick, easy, and inexpensive way to collect rapid feedback from stakeholders. It makes it easy to benchmark your performance against other, similar organizations. And it allows you to compare past responses to current performance, in an effort to constantly improve.
  • Cisco is a tech company. Every time a Cisco employee has a meeting they ask: “Did you get what you wanted from this meeting?” The answer is then written down and reported. This changes how employees converse; they focus on the needs of the other person. Build a culture of responsiveness into your organization.

Sophie Sahaf, Vice President, Evaluation, LIFT

LIFT provides one-on-one support to help people lift themselves out of poverty.

How LIFT uses Constituent Voice

  1. It builds evidence for LIFT’s theory of change by asking poignant questions.Ex. LIFT’s theory is that it is important to include social, personal, and economic foundations to create better outcomes for communities. LIFT therefore asks questions that target feedback about social support and personal foundations. Questions might include: “Today, LIFT helped me with the goals and priorities that are most important to me”; and “I would recommend LIFT to a friend or relative.”
  2. It challenges assumptions of how members are benefiting from programs. Constituent Voice involves collecting and responding to member feedback which improves results.

How can you implement a survey with a small budget?

  • Keystone provides excellent free questions on their website. Borrow ideas from this and other organizations.
  • Use an iPad, email, telephone or computer to run the survey.
  • Keep surveys short, never longer than 5-8 questions.
  • Analyze data in house. 90% of LIFT’s data analysis is performed in excel. Much can be learned from simple statistics.
  • Continually modify the questionnaire. Change questions and learn as you go.

Make your feedback practical

  • Beware of asking vague questions. Surveys are more effective if respondents understand what you are asking.
  • You must have the leadership’s support to make community feedback data part of your programmatic implementation.
  • Time your surveys to internal planning cycles for annual performance goals or strategy planning.
  • Remember, not all feedback is meaningful. Analyze data for contradictions. Create focus groups to explain confusing results.


Q: What are some tools that we can use to make sure that we are listening to/representative of the community?

Sophie: I first check the response rate. We typically have a 70% response rate, which we feel is more than adequately representative. We also follow up surveys with focus groups. These help us understand potential anomalies which may or may not be representative of the entire community.

David: I ask the responsiveness or voice question: “To what extent is it worth your time to engage with this organization to make it better for you?” Never be afraid of the responses you will get back. You will receive negative feedback, but this can only help you improve.

Q: Do you only use your clients’ feedback to improve your services internally, or do you also share with your founders, funders and supporters?

Sophie: We share feedback with a broad audience. We use it for performance management internally and many people are interested in the continuous learning approach externally. We are always happy to share what we are learning– what is and isn’t working.

David: One of the great powers of this approach is that it gives you exciting information that can be turned into stories. This allows you to better educate those around you so that they can better support your work.

Q: Should the question not also be about change? For example, our org uses the MSC (Most Significant Change) methodology which asks: What has changed in your life during the last months?

David: Yes, absolutely. One standard category of questions we use focuses on results. We ask: What has changed as a result of your work with us? Change is a nice way to focus on impact.

Sophie: We are a little limited by our tool for collecting data because our surveys are all multiple choice. We have other data collection efforts that try to access change.

Q: How can we think about using these tools to define organizations’ social impact within their communities?

Sophie: We should always be challenging our assumptions. We ask our members what they most and least value about their meetings with LIFT through focus groups. We then probe into their answers with multiple choice questions.

David: This isn’t a planning tool, it is an engagement mechanism to test how well our actions work. Ask people: Are we doing the things you want us to do? Are our they the highest priority and value to you? These are ways to test whether you are serving the community’s interests and needs.

This post was written by Kennan Howlett, Program Team Intern.

1 Comment


about 6 years ago

David and Sophie gave some great advice for getting community feedback. Very informative read. Thanks for sharing their tips!

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