4 ways to build more effective feedback mechanisms
Putting human perspectives at the heart of improving services in Poland’s refugee response
When the war in Ukraine escalated in February 2022, UNICEF immediately arrived to respond to the emerging needs of refugees looking for safety in the neighboring Poland. As time went by, the needs were changing, and services had to be adapted to better support families from Ukraine who were staying longer-term because of the protracted crisis at home. Feedback has been a constant and critical tool to the response at large, allowing service providers to quickly adjust their programs and address issues raised.
“We want our services to be needed, well-designed, and used by people,” says Agata Usidus-Starega, coordinator at UNICEF’s Spilno Hub in Lublin. “We are not working with basic needs anymore.”
Research conducted by Common Thread, a global leader in behavioural science, among municipalities, local organizations, Ukrainians and service providers, has revealed key factors to consider when designing effective feedback mechanisms.
1. Be clear about the purpose of the feedback and how it will be used.
Service providers intuitively understand that feedback is more than data collection. It is an invaluable accountability tool. Feedback can work to measure satisfaction with a service, to respond to individual needs, and to generate ideas for improvement. Ideally, all modes of feedback promote participation, build trust and empower refugees to have a say in the services that are designed for them. Data collection and analysis provide valuable guidance to programs. Typically, it involves a one-way communication channel, where systems request opinions, advice, and satisfaction metrics, culminating in the receipt of a response.
But there are myriad ways in which feedback is currently being collected: from offline surveys to formal interviews, to suggestion boxes, to phone polls, to sticky-notes-covered cork boards. This can lead to feedback fatigue, and without sharing back, uncertainty of how people’s insights are being responded to. After all, regardless of the tool, requests for feedback contain an implicit promise: that opinions will be heard, and actions taken.
2. Take into consideration the feedback culture and context when seeking input.
The key to getting actionable information is finding the right method, level of participation, and frequency. Recent interviews and research revealed that the feedback culture among Ukrainians is different than among Poles. They are less likely to provide negative feedback about individual staff. This is a common issue in emergency response situations where asking people in need to document their views, especially in writing, may exacerbate their fear of retaliation or loss of service. In this context, social desirability can have a significant influence, as individuals who are in need may tend to answer based on what they believe is socially expected rather than their true personal experiences.
Colleagues at the frontlines, such as Agata from Spilno Hub in Lublin, are constantly triangulating between written opinions from questionnaires, notes left on feedback boards and social media channels. “Social media are the richest in opinions and in questions,” she says. But she also agrees that one on one conversations are valuable for their depth, the opportunity to establish human connections and sometimes even to respond to issues on the spot.
In border towns like Chelm, where one of Blue Dot reception centres run by UNICEF and partners is set up as a one-stop-shop to meet the urgent needs of those arriving from Ukraine, needs and feedback are being primarily observed through personal interactions.
3. Ensure the active participation of refugees.
Feedback is at the heart of guiding principles of Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP). According to the guidelines, refugees should be actively involved in decisions affecting them and should have the ability to provide feedback and hold aid providers accountable. This allows them to play an active role in shaping the response to better meet their needs and priorities. The guidelines hold humanitarian assistance programs accountable, helping to reduce the power imbalance between refugees and service providers. They also help improve the quality of the services.
By following up on feedback, providers are not only helping refugees regain agency, but they are also keeping their promise and working to build trust. When refugees feel that their feedback is being taken seriously, it helps to build a sense of partnership. Trust is an essential element to a successful humanitarian program, and it can only be gained when providers demonstrate a commitment to addressing the needs of their clients.
Good feedback is a two-way conversation and showing people how their input has been responded to is critical. Research conducted in partnership with Common Thread revealed that feedback can not only predict the future needs of refugees that could inform the work of frontline staff, but also motivate the service centre teams by showing the positive impact they make on people’s lives. Trustworthy feedback mechanisms can help motivate service recipients to share their views and increase the feeling of being included in the decision-making process.
4. Recognize that there is no single, perfect solution for collecting feedback.
There is no perfect mechanism for collecting feedback, but there are guiding principles that can make feedback tools more effective. It is important to involve refugees themselves in the design, collection and interpretation of feedback and regularly let people and organizations know how the information they supplied has been acted upon.
Clearly defining the purpose of the feedback and considering the diverse needs of individuals planning to stay in Poland long-term, and those who are planning to, or regularly return to Ukraine, is crucial for establishing an effective feedback mechanism. In this context, UNICEF employs an intersectional lens, being mindful of various vulnerabilities and population groups that may have limited opportunities to provide feedback.
From the first days of the war, the UNICEF Refugee Response Office in Poland reaches, engages, and collects feedback from refugee families coming from Ukraine to ensure they have access to essential services. This includes education, health, protection from violence, mental health support, and more. Through our social and behaviour change work we have reached more than 3.8 million people entering Poland from Ukraine.