Guest post by Megan Campbell, Sr. Research, Learning, and Engagement Consultant at Feedback Labs
What does it take to make feedback the expected thing? At Feedback Labs we believe it means getting to a tipping point of leaders and organizations acting in dispersed but coordinated ways — experimenting with different tactics, tools, and techniques, and then coming together regularly to share and improve their practices.
Our bi-weekly LabStorms provide a regular opportunity for participants in our network to seek intensive support and advice from about 10-15 peers and peer organizations. And our annual Summits provide a critical opportunity for a much larger group of feedback leaders to share learning from the past year and to generate ideas about what to do next.
So far, over 500 organizations have participated in LabStorms, Summits, collaborative research projects, and other joint initiatives. Given this growth, we constantly ask ourselves and our members how we can deepen and extend “distributed collaboration” across a wide network. That’s why, leading up to our third annual Feedback Summit in 2017, we launched a collaborative network mapping effort called Map Feedback in partnership with Root Change.
The 2017 Feedback Summit was set to be our largest yet, bringing together more than 150 leaders in the fields of philanthropy, international development and impact investing. Our team wanted to take advantage of this opportunity to learn more about this emerging community: What was the breadth and depth of the feedback movement? To what extent were members learning from one another and collaborating around feedback? Where were members getting funding to support their feedback work? What new connections would members want to make? And what role should Feedback Labs and other leaders in the movement play?
That’s where Map Feedback came in. Using a precursor to Root Change’s current systems analysis tool, Pando, Feedback Labs invited Summit participants to complete an online survey about the organizations they go to for information and funding related to feedback. Survey participants were also asked to indicate what new organizations they would like to work with. As Summit participants submitted responses leading up to and during the Summit, their relationships were automatically visualized on a network map. Over the course of the two-day event, 270 organizations and 500 relationships were added to the map, and we began to get a clearer picture of the structure, dynamics, and key roles within the feedback network.
Map Feedback became fodder for meaningful conversation at the Summit. Participants gathered around the TV screen where Map Feedback was projected to see who was in the network, contemplate the roles and relationships of their organizations, and consider who was missing from the conversation. Map Feedback also gave the Feedback Labs team the chance to analyze this community we are working to support and helped inform our strategy for creating a more robust and effective feedback movement.
Here are three important lessons that we learned from the Map Feedback exercise:
Lesson 1: Maps bring networks alive. Our network is the beating heart of Feedback Labs – everything we do is with an eye to supporting existing network members and expanding feedback practice to new ones. We spend a lot of time thinking about the network, but having it visualized in front of the group at the Summit immediately brought out new insights.
Lesson 2: The map is not the territory – but it can reveal mountains and valleys. Feedback Labs’ network encompasses over 500 organizations and is still growing. Yet we were struck as we looked at Map Feedback by the fact that the number of organizations that were identified as feedback champions is still small compared to the vast number of organizations we want to influence to adopt feedback practices. It also revealed that community-based frontline organizations seemed to be under-represented – something we moved to address in the 2018 Summit and Crash Course. It was a good reminder that we have further to go as a movement.
Lesson 3: Platforms are key. We noticed that a strength of our network as visualized in Map Feedback was that a number of platforms, including Candid, Charity Navigator, Better Business Bureau and GlobalGiving had tremendous reach and possible influence. Together with major foundations and other funders like the Fund for Shared Insight, those platforms had the potential to both provide tools and also incentivize good feedback practices, spreading them rapidly beyond our existing network. Those platforms, together with feedback and network experts like Keystone Accountability, Acumen Lean Data, Development Gateway, and Listen4Good, Bridges Ventures, and the former CEO of JD Power, have now come together to launch a set of Feedback Principles with the feedback community that establishes the DNA for future feedback-related rewards.
Our experience mapping with Root Change demonstrated that having a tangible, visual representation of a network can be powerful. In this case, it gave us the ability to grasp more fully what was already happening, identify gaps, and generate ideas for how to grow the movement faster and (hopefully) better. The feedback we got from our 2018 Summit indicated that we made progress based on insights that Map Feedback revealed. Which only raised the question in our own minds: How can we do even better?