The future is bright for digital accountability

Emily Tomkys Valteri ICT4D, Research

Reflections from Programme Manager, Emily Tomkys Valteri on the Your Word Counts Programme as the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) Responsive Listening through Improved Feedback Mechanisms Project ends.

The Your Word Counts programme has sought to strengthen accountability through feedback mechanisms which are safe, confidential and trustworthy. Beginning as a small HIF pilot in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this grew to a HIF implementation ‘Responsive Listening’ project spanning five countries in the Middle East which looked to innovate the way in which feedback data is collected, managed and responded to using technology. The evaluation has been completed showing positive results and real impact in accountability and feedback mechanisms. It shows that collecting, managing and responding to feedback received through multiple channels from people with whom we work enables staff to be more informed, take swifter action when required and use evidence to influence the programme where valuable.

Staff consistency has been a key benefit in making this project a success. Not only from my side in Programme Management and the wider ICT in Programme team, who have provided invaluable support over the two years, but also at the country level. Focal points in each country have remained consistent across the two years which has been instrumental to success. The passion and commitment of these staff members, to be accountable to the people Oxfam supports in each country, has created positive programme changes based from the priorities and perceptions of the community members themselves.

Watch the team in Iraq explain how the project works:

What has been surprising?

I always knew that shifting culture takes time and can be painstakingly slow. I am surprised that we have seen a noticeable positive culture shift in accountability. Not only from our staff and partners but also seeing a change at the community level which has filtered down from the work our country teams are doing.

‘I am proud that we built trust through transparency, and that communities feel like someone is listening.’ Quote from country MEAL staff from the learning event in Iraq, 2019

This remains the largest challenge of the Your Word Counts programme but a shift in this timeframe is a positive path to be on and one that can continue to improve over time.

What hasn’t been surprising?

I am not surprised that the technology worked. There has been widespread satisfaction on the use of SurveyCTO as a mobile case management system and PowerBI for data visualisation (connected through Oxfam’s programme DataHub). Not only has the technology delivered on expectations, it has proven to be both sustainable and scalable. We made distinct decisions to not build bespoke technology for this (beyond integration) and utilise tools that were available for a manageable price at the country level. Having Oxfam’s ICT in Programme team on hand has been a key reason for success but the technology has been the simplest part of this project.

The future is bright

Although the Responsive Listening HIF project has ended, the future is bright for digital accountability. The positive outcomes of this evaluation have shown that the technology and methodology provide an effective platform to improve responsiveness and overall country-level accountability towards staff, partners and the communities Oxfam works in. This project also kickstarted a human centred design research project, where we are further developing our holistic understanding of the varying barriers relating to misconduct reporting among community members and field staff, to understand the conditions where people can come forward and speak up.

The Your Word Counts programme is set to scale. Continuing and scaling within four countries in the HIF project, to an ambition for all Oxfam countries to locally adapt this way of working. This won’t simply be a replication of what has been done to date. Strategically, we will be working towards how we can localise and put this in the hands of communities and local partners; adapt to improve ways to safely report misconduct; coordinate with other agencies; use the technology for social accountability to link citizen feedback with governments. We can’t do this all at once, but scaling will look to push the boundaries further so that we can continue to harness the power that digital technology can bring to the accountability journey both for Oxfam and the wider sector. I would love to hear from others facing similar challenges and we are looking for ways collaborate and share learning.


Emily Tomkys Valteri