Feedback is vital for trust and effective safeguarding

12 September 2018
Author: Derek Thorne

Imagine this: a multi-million pound development programme invests heavily in its safeguarding measures. It creates multiple ways for people to raise concerns, both hi-tech and low-tech, and trains its staff to how handle these concerns when they arise. It publicises these mechanisms across many channels. And in the following years, no safeguarding concerns are raised. 

This could mean that there were no instances of abuse or exploitation. But it is also easy to imagine that, if there were such instances, the people who survived them were simply not willing to raise them with the development agency running the programme. 

Why would these people not come forward? And how can we who work in international development ensure safeguarding concerns do come to the surface? 

The sector’s heightened focus on safeguarding this year has led to a lot of conversation on this topic – especially in Bond’s Feedback and Accountability Learning Group. We are a group of over 100 people working for large and small development and humanitarian organisations, all of whom work on making interventions more accountable to the people who participate in them. 

Through our discussions, we’ve put together eight principles for building trust through feedback. And “trust” is the key word here. Our paper proposes that serious safeguarding concerns will only be raised when communities and individuals trust our ability to respond appropriately. Furthermore, we emphasise that feedback and accountability mechanisms are a vital way to establish this trust. 

“Effective accountability mechanisms are a necessary, yet not sufficient, condition for allegations of misconduct and endangerment of vulnerable people to emerge and be acted upon.” 

A framework for effective mechanisms 

What are these “effective accountability mechanisms?” Many development programmes use different methods for feedback, such as suggestion boxes, free text or phone numbers, community meetings, one-to-one conversations, and many more.

They publicise these widely and log every piece of feedback that comes through them. They train staff in how to manage them and respond to feedback. Our principles give a framework for how to do all this in a way that maximises trust and puts people at the heart of the process. 

The principles include things which should, of course, be applied to development interventions more generally, such as making them context-specific, inclusive and accessible. The paper underlines the importance of consulting with people involved in, or affected by, the intervention to design feedback mechanisms – and not to forget to consult those who are most marginalised.

Going beyond accessibility, feedback mechanisms should be empowering – meaning they should address, and shift, the power imbalance that exists between organisations and the people they aim to serve. 

We also came up with responses to practical concerns, such as making sure mechanisms are appropriately resourced, and that NGOs coordinate with other organisations when feedback is received. We must go beyond our individual brands to recognise that our position of power obliges us to share responsibility for creating safe, respectful and empowering environments for our interventions collectively.

“Closing the loop” is a key concept in feedback and accountability circles (excuse the pun). It refers to the importance of not only encouraging and receiving feedback, but communicating back to those who gave the feedback, and the wider community, on what is being done in response. Closing the loop is vital to building trust. 

Our hope is that these principles form both a contribution to the current debate around safeguarding, and a tool which development practitioners can use to inform any feedback mechanisms they are planning. While this is not a “how to” guide, the principles provide an overall steer on feedback and accountability. 

Read the Eight principles for building trust through feedback paper here. And if this is a topic you're working on or interested in, join the Feedback and Accountability Learning Group to discuss best practice and share ideas. 

About the author

Derek Thorne
Integrity Action

Derek Thorne is head of programme development at Integrity Action and co-chair of the Bond Feedback and Accountability Learning Group.