This Funding Group is Betting That "Feedback Loops" Can Improve Global Development Work

It's an exciting time to be in the feedback loop business, and no one knows this better than Feedback Labs, a new nonprofit consortium selected as one of the 14 organizations to receive a grant from the Fund for Shared Insight, the collaborative of funders helping nonprofits to collect and incorporate feedback to improve their performance—and how philanthropic dollars are spent. (Yup, this post is about a collaborative giving money to a consortium, one more sign that lone wolf outfits are decidedly passé.)

Feedback loops are being heralded as a way to ensure that the people served by nonprofits, the so-called "end users" of philanthropy, can give input to how organizations operate. Better listening promises to teach nonprofits what the client wants and does not want, and how, in providing services, it can best communicate with clients and also act to meet their needs. Some of the benefits? Feedback loops can help expand on successes and give quick attention to problems as they emerge.

The mission of Feedback Labs is to bring all this good stuff to the world of global development, and the consortium includes a number of innovative groups operating in this space, including Ashoka, GlobalGiving, and the Center for Global Development. The group is funded by the Hewlett, Gates, and Rita Allen foundations, as well as the World Bank—and now the Fund for Shared Insight. It says about its work: "Our goal is to make feedback loops the new norm in aid, development, and philanthropy, and we envision a world where citizens are empowered with creative, field-tested ways to productively interact with aid agencies, foundations, and governments."

That sounds good, and it's notable that the Feedback Labs also wants to extend better listening to aid agencies and governments, which often do an even worse job on this front than nonprofits. 

Feedback Labs has already established itself as a nexus of cutting-edge dialogue on incorporating feedback into development policy. It's co-hosted meetings at the White House, World Bank, and major foundations to discuss theory and research, and its members have also launched collaborative, on-the ground experiments

Recently, Feedback Labs partnered with the Data and Democracy Initiative (a program of Citris-uc.org) to create feedback loops in global health care settings including Uganda. A full report entitled IT Innovations for Human Rights, Civic Engagement and Humanitarian Development outlines the key initiatives. 

The conversation about feedback and civic engagement in development policy is still at a relatively early stage. Lots of work needs to be done to spread the word, and Feedback Labs will be using the grant from the Fund for Shared Insight to "convene people, catalyze collaboration, and disseminate findings and good practices."

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