How a Village in India Taught their Local Government to Listen

How a Village in India Taught their Local Government to Listen

Sarathi Development Foundation is a recipient of our 2015 Feedback Fund. They recently shared these insights with us.

Jamalpur is a small village of 70 families in Uttar Pradesh, India. No one there has a toilet. This is the story of their year-long struggle to get more resources from the government. It is a good illustration of the power of persistence and the role that a NGO can play in facilitating feedback loops.

Their village was not invited to be part of the annual government planning process in 2015, and so they were offered anything they wanted. The women self-help group there worked with our trained volunteers on a community goal. In August of 2015 they decided to put toilets in every house and eliminate open defecation.

The women and our volunteers visited government authorities and put their request in writing. Why should they be denied assistance, just because their village was overlooked by the government planners?

Government authorities were impressed with their collective request. They assured them the government would do something.

The women complained two months later because they saw no action and received no communication. So our organization sent more volunteers to help escalate their concerns.

Following up, we learned that the government had included their village in its next-year annual planning process and was allocating future resources for toilets, but no one had told the community about this. So we got it in writing and shared it with the villagers.

Meanwhile, we visited the community and trained them on how to follow-up with government workers until their requests had been answered.

In November 2015 and January 2016, they followed up. Now they were being told that the materials required for toilet construction were being delivered to each household. The next week, they sent us a picture of women standing next to the materials needed in front of their houses. It was encouraging to see the community own this process and received this material from the government.

But the next month construction stopped. The community complained to the village head that the bricks for making toilets were shoddy.

The following month they got better materials, and the community was satisfied. Construction continues today. At this point they have no more complaints.

This is what a “feedback loop” looks like at a very granular local level. It is a lot of back-and-forth passing of complaints and follow-ups until something is done. It requires someone to keep asking, “what is the news” and “who needs to hear this?” Very little information makes it home without intervention.

Our Lessons

  1. These follow-ups often unsettle settled behaviours & practices. Government service providers may not be open to feedback reflecting on their performance. We need to be tactful.
  2. Feedback is a way to position the community as the actor, instead of the observer.
  3. Feedback facilitates evidence-based advocacy within a larger context – is it what helps people get equitable? Do men and women have the same rights? If we’re systematic, these issues get resolved.
  4. Feedback is not a one time activity but a continuous dynamic process.
  5. Documentation is important. Often important facts are missed if documentation is not done at every step.

Author: Akhilesh Tewari, Director of Sarathi Development Foundation

This is an example of a GlobalGiving organization that Listens, Acts, and Learns. Check out the other great work Sarathi Development Foundation is doing on our Tools + Training Blog


Marc Maxmeister is part of GlobalGiving's impact team.

1 Comment

Barbara Rosasco

about 5 years ago

I liked this post. Not only did it tell a story that engaged me but it started me thinking about how to integrate the same style into my own communications. I find that often I feel that am at a loss for words, and it occurs to me that I may be stuck in my " high level" overview of a project and therefore not immediately conscious of the need for communicating the many small details that create deeper understanding and a sense of " ownership" in finding/assisting in solutions. In school and in business we are taught to be concise , brief and to the point in our writing. In life, the devil is in the details and so a balance is needed to be mindful of readers' time while trying to provide meaningful insights.

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