Feedback is essential for accountability and evaluation of programmes. Here, Destelia Ngwenya, gives an overview of the Your Word Counts project which addresses the accountability culture in our programme teams.
Through the scale up of the Your Word Counts project, Oxfam will be addressing the accountability culture in our programme teams. First piloted in Jordan, we are extending to four more countries as we try to ensure a shared and individual responsibility to collecting, managing and responding to feedback which Oxfam receives on the ground. As we look to train staff/partners/volunteers to embed accountability within individual’s responsibilities and incentivise a work flow, we will also be re-addressing the current global accountability reporting system. We will be looking to ensure we harness the full value of feedback and that the process of responding is streamlined and embedded in the local ways of working. Our experience to date has prompted us to rethink our classification of feedback and complaints.
Currently, there is a template for capturing feedback, but it doesn’t always fit into the categorisation that is required at a project level. This means that our Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning (MEAL) staff are having to re-categorise feedback to fit into the global reporting mechanism in place. This is not the best use of time and means that the global mechanism is seen of little value to country teams because it can lack contextual detail and can become an added burden.
Does asking a question about the programme really count as feedback?Whilst thinking about the categorisation, the main struggle has been whether to have “Request for information” as a global category for feedback. Does asking a question about the programme really count as feedback? There is no doubt that this information is useful so we can improve our programme communications if feedback frequently shows up information gaps. However, when faced with this at country level, it is rather daunting to think that every question you are asked should be recorded in a feedback mechanism, even if you have the answer immediately. Some programme teams want this, but others do not. From a global perspective, Oxfam has removed this from its reporting mechanism for now.
Our proposed global categorisation is:
Category 1: Positive feedback
Category 2: Request for assistance
Category 3: Request for a programme change
Category 4: Minor discontent with activities
Category 5: Major discontent with an activity
Category 6: Complaint on Oxfam staff behaviour or fraud
With the removal of “request for information”, Oxfam needs to train those collecting the information on what is considered a simple question versus when it represents feedback. For example, when communities approach programme staff and ask what the selection criteria for an intervention is, the programme officer may immediately explain the criteria to them and there may be no need to further record this, as it is a simple question. However, if the same community member then went onto to ask why they were not included in the programme, as they think that they qualify, the issue then becomes a minor discontent with activities and will be recorded as category 4 in the global reporting. Those collecting information will need to be trained not just on the nuances of when a simple question becomes a complaint or feedback, but will also need to understand how certain information is used by different teams.
In addition to training data collectors on the new categories, effort is also required in getting a shared understanding of the new categories across the board. Extending the training will be needed to include the MEAL teams who are responsible for analysing the feedback and complaints data. Training also needs to include those who are following up to make sure action is taken on certain feedback and those consolidating the reports at the global level. It is only when there is a shared common understanding of the new categories across the board that complaints and feedback data will be meaningfully interpreted and used. Similarly, training will need to take place on what constitutes a minor versus a major discontent which will always be somewhat objective.
This revised global categorisation is designed to be embedded at the country level to remove re-categorisation for the local MEAL staff as well as work as an escalation workflow. Categories 1-4 will be handled by programme teams with category 5 being referred to the Programme Manager and category 6 to the Country Director. This workflow adds value to the country teams and demonstrates a purpose for this form of categorisation beyond the global reporting that headquarters want to see. By addressing the accountability culture and having a re-think of the global categorisation, Oxfam will be in a better position to hold itself to account, track trends across responses and showcase examples of good practice. Oxfam will be able to demonstrate that we are serious when we say we put the affected population at the heart of everything we do.