A blog by Apoorva Mishra
“The customer is king”, I heard the hotel staff say to me, when I had requested a room change. Of course they had to respond as they were accountable for the service they were being paid for and they wanted to maintain their reputation. In development programming, the pathways to accountability are not so clear, the projects are for the poor, they are the reason we get funding but how do we ensure that we are accountable to non-paying clients who have less power than us? And how do we put this in practice? What are some of the benefits and challenges that World Vision has faced in becoming more accountable to the communities it serves through listening to their feedback. These are some of the questions explored in the synthesis paper that summarises key learnings from WVUK supported accountability pilot programmes. You can download this below.
We have increasing evidence that implementing a community feedback and response mechanism has helped development programming to become more responsive to the needs of the communities; thereby increasing a sense of voice, inclusiveness, trust and building better relationships. As one community member in Ethiopia said: “They hear us. They listen to Us. They do all that they can and tell us what they can’t do. And they give us respect.”
Other benefits have been the way feedback has helped break down barriers between different agencies for them to address and incorporate changes in response to common feedback. This has led to positive outcomes of influencing local governance. The community values the option of providing ongoing feedback as opposed to M&E visits at certain points in time, as in Nepal, one community member noted: “If we see staff of WVI asks us for feedback and listen us, we feel they are doing job for us, but when we occasionally see them for monitoring and follow-up, we think they are for them.”
The findings suggest that what enables these processes to take root and contributes to the success of programmes are: senior leadership and institutional support structures and commitments already in place within national offices that drive them to prioritise accountability to communities; building on cross-departmental feedback systems already established with communities has also helped institutional learning, saved time and resources and enhanced accountability practice; and the enabling environment further bolstered through increased capacity. This means assigning resources in terms of funds and staff time as well as building awareness and capacity of staff and communities at the design stage of CFRS. It has helped create ownership and buy-in, for example in Ethiopia, use of community volunteers as a way of collecting and responding to feedback has been popular and worked well. One community volunteer noted: “There is change. But it’s us and the community. We engage the community all the time. It is because of us and the logbook that change happens.”
As with pilot projects, challenges and barriers also emerged during implementation. These were mostly related to institutional structures such as MOUs signed with partners and inflexibility on changes to these. There have also been cases where the pilots have different management structures for delivery and budgetary controls within NOs which makes ownership and decision-making problematic. The problem is exacerbated by accountability not being assigned to staff roles and integrated in their performance appraisal. As in the case of Pakistan, a staff member noted: “For accountability to work, it has to be part of the project design. It needs to be integrated into the work.” One manager said, “We need to start putting more of this into job descriptions and agreements. Accountability needs to go up and down the organisation.”
Raising awareness and consulting the community on their information needs is something that accountability projects built capacity on, as well as systematic means of referring and acting on feedback to respond to the community. This ensured closing the feedback loop. This is an ongoing area of improvement in national offices that piloted the programmes. There are challenges in staff time and resources in capturing and referring informal feedback. It was found that community members preferred two-way communication but also the option of providing anonymous feedback, therefore ensuring that a variety of feedback options exist also helped projects address the diversity of community members. But expectation management through continuous communication was key in managing the feedback loop.
The paper concludes that World Vision practices have enhanced accountability to communities and longer term sustainability of these practices can be bolstered further through continuous capacity building on aspects of the feedback loop but also by addressing some of the institutional barriers and by encouraging senior leadership commitment through provision of budget and staff time for ensuring that feedback from communities is incorporated in everyday practice.
The Review discusses findings from three distinct programmes. These are Accountability for Development projects (A4D) that were launched in Bolivia, Cambodia, Honduras and Zimbabwe in 2010; Beneficiary Feedback Mechanisms Programme, World Vision partnered with INTRAC to manage UKAID funded programme on Beneficiary Feedback Mechanisms (BFM) with seven partners (www.feedbackmechanisms.org) ; and most recently UKAID PPA funded Accountability Learning Initiatives (ALIs) in Ethiopia, Nepal, Pakistan and Somaliland between 2014-2016. Each of these phases have been unique in some ways, as they tested CFRS in different contexts with different partners but there have also been some common trends, which are presented as a synthesis in the paper.
 Cechvala, Sarah, and Isabella Jean. “Accountability is a mirror that shows not only your face, but also your back.” CDA-World Vision Ethiopia Feedback Loops Case Study. Cambridge, MA: CDA Collaborative Learning Projects, March 2016. P24
 As quoted in PPA Final report on Accountability Learning Initiative in Nepal, January 2017. P11
 Cechvala, S. & Jean, I., Feedback Loops Case Study in Ethiopia, March 2016. P21
 Cechvala, S, Feedback Loops Case Study in Pakistan, December 2015
 Cechvala, S, Feedback Loops Case Study in Pakistan, December 2015. P38