Open Beneficiary Feedback is a transparent and autonomous form of beneficiary feedback that triggers positive behaviour changes. It is the only form of feedback that truly gives power to the beneficiary. It is to the beneficiary survey, what Open Consumer Feedback is to the consumer satisfaction survey.
Use of the term beneficiary
Open Beneficiary Feedback could also be called Open Citizen Feedback or Open Community Feedback. Our friends at Keystone Accountability use Constituent Voice. Some people object to the term beneficiary because they think it implies passivity by a recipient and perhaps also a lack of rights.
Being a beneficiary is no more derogatory or patronising than being called a customer - both have rights and power. I defend the use of the term beneficiary because it suggests that a project or service should produce a tangible, meaningful benefit.
Replacing beneficiary with "citizen" is imperfect because there will be times when feedback is sought from people who are not citizens; they may be refugees, or legal migrants who have not become citizens. Constituent Voice is a good option when it includes the employees of an organisation as well as implementing partners. But we are focused on the feedback from the direct and indirect beneficiaries of a project or service. Not the employees. Open Community Feedback is my go-to alternative, but I ultimately stand by the use of Open Beneficiary Feedback for the reasons given above. We want to assess whether a project or service is actually beneficial.
Three core features
All Open Consumer Feedback platforms share three features, which I described at greater length in an earlier post. Let's translate those three features for public goods and services that can be delivered by either the public sector, by for-profits, or by non-profit organisations, charities and other non-state actors, such as religious bodies.
The three features are:
Autonomy: the feedback system is not controlled by the direct service provider or project implementer (i.e. the Principal or Project/Service Manager cannot switch it "OFF", see this post for an explanation);
Transparency: the key results are fully visible to the project or service implementer as well as its citizen beneficiary; and
Positive Feedback Loops: The most important features is that they trigger multiple positive feedback loops both to the project or service implementer as well as its citizen beneficiary.
A review of beneficiary feedback platforms, apps and methods
Most traditional beneficiary feedback approaches have none of the three characteristics mentioned above. Some of them have one or two of these features. And only a few have all three. This does not mean that most methods are wrong or a wasteful. Methods of feedback like consumer satisfaction surveys, co-creation labs for new products, focus groups to review new products, etc. are entirely valid and useful concepts.
For example, the Citizen Feedback Monitoring Program in the Punjab province of Pakistan has none of the three characteristics. This is a system of citizen feedback initiated and run by the Chief Minister's office. In other words it is not autonomous. The results of feedback are made available to "relevant government authorities" but not to the public or to the respondent, i.e. it is not transparent and users do not experience any positive feedback loops from providing inputs to the system.
Similarly, when you pass security at an airport and are asked to hit a traffic light button for your feedback on the service, this is not autonomous, the results are not known to you and there is no positive feedback loop.
The World Bank's Presidential Delivery Unit reports on the percentage of projects with a beneficiary feedback indicator. Their target is 100% and they have reached 85%. However, this does not qualify as transparent because they are only reporting the existence of a feedback mechanism, not the raw data or analysed data that would show what the feedback is. Nor is there is no evidence that the World Bank's feedback mechanisms trigger positive feedback loops.
FrontlineSMS and Ushahidi are powerful feedback tools that are system neutral as they could be deployed by Type A, B or C feedback systems.
Beneficiary feedback that have none of the three characteristics of an Open Feedback system include:
Beneficiary and community consultations initiated by the Principal or Manager of a project
Collaborative or participatory decision-making initiated by the Principal or Manager
Collecting, recording and reporting on inputs from citizens and direct + indirect beneficiaries, for example through surveys, Citizen Report Cards, Community Score Cards, SMS feedback
Grievance Redress Mechanisms (also called Complaints Handling Mechanisms) set up by the Principal or Manager
Then there are systems that have one or more of the characteristics of an Open Beneficiary Feedback system.
1. Autonomy + Positive Feedback Loops (w/out Transparency)
Any application that would have autonomy and positive feedback loops would also report the results. So I don't think there any examples of this.
2. Autonomy + Transparency (w/out Positive Feedback Loops)
I Paid A Bribe, originally from India and now used in a dozen countries, is a leading example. This application covers more than a thousand Indian cities. It cannot be switched off by the Principals (government of India, state chief ministers, etc.) nor by the authorities being monitored. But it generates a negligible Fix-Rate for the problems it helps to identify, i.e. no positive feedback loops.
Other examples are some terrific Nigerian initiatives that provide access to budget information like BudgIT, Budeshi and I Follow the Money that provides access to information on public contracts.
3. Transparency + Positive Feedback Loops (w/out Autonomy)
I have searched but I have not yet found a dependent (i.e. non-autonomous) system of feedback that triggers positive feedback loops and that reports its results openly, preferably in real time. If there is one out there, please let me know.
4. Transparency + Positive Feedback Loops + Autonomy
In addition to Integrity Action's DevelopmentCheck, the leading examples are FixMyStreet and SeeClickFix.
There are, in effect, two kinds of beneficiary feedback systems that possess at least two of the three characteristics of Open Consumer Feedback: e.g. those that combine autonomy with transparency but do not deliver positive feedback loops. And the approaches that combine all three features.
Try to imagine how well Uber, Booking.com, or Airbnb would function if they did not have that third feature - the positive feedback loop - built into their feedback model? How long would these businesses have lasted? Probably no more than a few days.
As I indicated in an earlier post, the combination of all three features contributes towards building trust. But the three features are not equally important. The positive feedback loop is the big differentiator that can, when it is truly effective, create a new disruptive business model.
I will write about positive feedback loops in another post.