Adapting feedback and complaints mechanisms: looking beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

19 February 2021
Taking stock of adaptation

The promise of coronavirus vaccines means an endpoint to the Covid-19 pandemic. It will take much time and effort, but at least we know better where we stand – around the mid-point of this dangerous and disruptive period. Now is a good time to take stock of how we have adapted, and imagine how, post-pandemic, we can make use of this opportunity to do things differently as a sector and ensure that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) keep social distance whilst maintaining a meaningful dialogue with those they work with and for.

Constituent engagement is critical in being adaptive in our programming as it enables us to actively listen in ways that help us better understand the contexts we operate in and support emergent agency. It was during “Accountable Now’s” recent Annual Workshop that we had a chance to work with a variety of civil society actors to address questions of how the sector is adapting one element of constituent engagement, their feedback, and complaint mechanisms, in light of the pandemic.

Recently, CSOs have been taking stock of these adaptations and looking ahead to whether we just revert to what we did before, or whether these changes have created new possibilities. Workshop participants populated a large virtual flipchart to identify what adaptations have been made to our feedback and complaints mechanisms, the implications of these changes, and what we now need to do to set a course for these mechanisms to enable more meaningful dialogue and effective programming post-pandemic. The discussion generated several takeaways for the different actors in the ‘feedback loop’.

Harnessing the potential of technology while restoring face-to-face opportunities

CSO staff managing feedback and complaints mechanisms have had to increasingly rely on digital channels for feedback and complaints, and the challenge will be continuing to harness the potential of technology while at the same time restoring face-to-face opportunities for communities to provide feedback, particularly when it comes to sensitive complaints.

Adapting to the pandemic has reinforced our understanding that to reach different groups within the community, our mechanisms need to be much more flexible and diverse than we think. There needs to be a diversification of mechanisms as part of our preparedness planning before a crisis actually hits and we need to recommit to consulting with communities on how they want to receive information from CSOs and provide feedback. While Covid-19 and future disruptions may create constraints, our starting point must always be the preference of communities rather than what is assumed by, or most convenient for, CSOs.

New opportunities to strengthen the inclusion of community member perspectives

CSO senior management/decision-makers have been presented with new opportunities to strengthen the inclusion of community member perspectives. The pre-covid reliance on face-to-face meetings would often limit who would be ‘in the room’ when strategic programmatic decisions were being made. We relied on anecdotal interactions of CSO decision-makers with community members to balance out the rather narrow viewed impact that M&E systems provided. However, with fewer opportunities to physically visit projects, but more feedback available in digital form, CSO decision-makers have been able to draw on this feedback to guide decisions. Furthermore, systematic analysis across large amounts of feedback can generate powerful insights into how a programme can best adapt.

For example, World Vision was able to aggregate feedback trends within countries and across all our country-level responses to better target its support. However, the flip-side of this is the exclusion of voices that are not able to be heard through digital platforms. Covid-19 has brought into sharper focus the digital divide and the need to invest resources to enable marginalized community members to access feedback mechanisms and participate in meaningful dialogue.

Accelerating adaptable implementations through local partners

Donors who value meaningful dialogue have also been presented with opportunities to accelerate adaptable implementations through local partners and give more space for localization. Many have loosened their controls (giving greater flexibility to enable grantees to quickly respond to the pandemic) while not being able to conduct field visits and directly monitor implementation. Being able to access aggregated feedback and complaints has the potential to enable them to understand the effectiveness, manage the risks and explore untapped innovations, in the programmes they fund.

Sharing and harmonizing

The process of sharing our adaptations reminded us that we often tend to develop our own systems and mechanisms and that we need to continue to share approaches and harmonize whenever we are engaging overlapping constituencies.

One of the silver linings of facing a global crisis is that many CSOs and alliances have now developed information sharing portals on Covid-19 responses (ALNAP Covid-19 Portal, BOND Covid-19 Advice and Resources, COVID-19 Resources by UN agencies and Clusters, CHS Alliance Covid-19 and CHS, IASC page for COVID-19 Resources Relating to Accountability and Inclusion) as well as specific sharing around feedback and complaints mechanisms (see list below). These can all help us reflect, and retain the positive adaptations made during the pandemic, that support meaningful dialogue with the people and communities CSOs work for and with.


Written by: Mayumi Fuchi (University of Birmingham/ Islamic Relief Worldwide), Jessica Al Ghoryeb, Manisha Paudel, Catherine Green, Daniel Stevens (World Vision International)
Cover photo: ©UNICEF/Fauzan Ijazah