Closing the loop: how do you give feedback?

In Community Engagement probably one of the weakest areas of the process is ‘closing the loop’, providing the feedback that shows how a decision has been made and where the community has had an influence.

Those that do manage to do it often use simple communication tactics such as an updated webpage, newsletter or article in the local press and this is mainly due to lack of planning or lack of resources. But I think things are changing. We ask community to participate in a way that leaves people wondering how their input has been used (or not used) and now they are increasingly asking for a response to justify their time wasn’t wasted. Whilst in response, organisations are becoming more creative in the way they say ‘hey, look what we did. Thanks for being involved’.

So using LinkedIn and Facebook I asked two groups of professionals ‘how do you provide feedback to your community when a project is complete and what’s the most creative way of ‘closing the loop’ you have seen or used?’

In doing this most people agreed that this is an important question and that ‘feedback is one of the most crucial aspects of community engagement’ (John R Zakian via LinkedIn). For John ‘feedback is critically important on an ongoing basis’ something David Plouffe agrees with as it builds on the continuous relationship with community — ‘in my most successful initiatives, feedback… supports continuous communication’. Anna Glasby via LinkedIn also agrees that it should be worked out at the planning and design stage’ as ‘it will help us stay focused and accountable.’

Part of the problem with ‘closing the loop’ lies in its lack of planning, ‘it needs to be part of the creation of the engagement model’ (Brenton Chappell via LinkedIn) yet as Ruth Gallagher points out it ‘is often seen as a completion task… rather than an integral part of the whole thing’. But Debbie Williams points out that it’s ‘a really important part of the process’ so why is so little time paid to the planning and provision of feedback?

Rhion Jones via LinkedIn suggests it’s because there is a lack of understanding between two separate forms of feedback — Output and Outcome where the two process become muddled. Output Feedback being the sharing back of what was said as part of the process whereas Outcome Feedback is the actual explanation of the decision that was made following the consultation opportunity.

Another reason that was highlighted in the groups was lack of resources, mainly time, money and skills. A more specified issue was even though the work has been done organisations are not taking advantage of the email and contact lists they have created from participants in engagement processes with the main reason being that it’s another task for an already busy person to do.

What’s happening now?

In response to my question the majority of people were happy to talk about what they do now or have used in the past. This includes:

  • Collecting contact information along the way (asking if they want to be kept up to date) and then sending emails or eNewsletters — Charmaine Cooper
  • We asked, you said, we’re doing’ — Phil Coyne and also ‘you said, we did’ which is concise (bullet pointed) and powerful — Debbie Williams (I have also used this as it’s a great way of showing the whole process you have been through together)
  • Through monthly community management team meetings — Nadine Herring
  • Showing through ‘ticks’ the things that were able to be influenced and ‘crosses’ for those that were unable to be changed — Debbie Williams
  • Produced a simple brochure outlining the original ‘engagement question’, a summary of the community’s comments, how those comments influenced the decision making process, and the final decision. Sent to every person who had participated, registered an interest or had been identified as a stakeholder — Jeanette Gellard
  • Easy read reports that actually quote community members and show diagrams of where a plan has been influenced. Easy where it’s something visible like a park, reserve even footpath because photos and plans are very good visual aids — Andrew Coulson
  • A diagram to show how information from specific engagement activities (workshops, submissions, surveys) has informed specific chapters or sections of reports or plan — Anna Glasby
  • Give each contribution a tag or log number and use that for footnoting in reports so people can see where their contribution has been used, as it acknowledges their direct contribution directly — Anna Glasby
  • Local community media and the press — Adam Harper and Brenton Chappell
  • 70 facilitators recorded comments and 3 people inputted into excel with primary and secondary themes which became part of a ‘what was said’ document and then a plan to enable people to ‘do’ what they said they would — Scott MacAfee
  • Comments were written down and posted on the wall at an event so participants could see their comments written down and hear it echoed back to the whole room — instant and direct and not just confined to a table — Scott MacAfee
  • I theme similar comments by using multiple coloured pens, count them up and give relevant feedback often picking out a few key comments with a name and location (postcode) that reflects the sentiment of that theme in sharing the final report — Andrew Coulson

Moving forward

To quote another contributor, Brenton Chappell, ‘the promise to provide outcomes information is so much easier to deliver these days’ and I have to agree. Opportunity is much easy these days and through that opportunity is the ability to be creative. Communication channels are so much easy to access, use and are spread across so many different platforms and tools. Many tools available allow you to be more creative and the vast array of communication platforms allow you to reach either a targeted or whole community audience. So in answer to the second question what creative ways have you seen this is what people said?

  • Video — a fantastic way of saying thank you! If captured from the outset, it could show the engagement process and how the final outcome was achieved as well as the community (hopefully) approving the project — Matt Murray and Charmaine Cooper
  • Video — a short video with snippets of community events/vox pops/overlayed with some statements/key outcomes etc would be received well — Janet Pryor
  • Video — actually get the community involved in the filming — Andrew Coulson
  • Rip it up’ — David Plouffe said he asked participants to provide feedback on the actual final report by tearing it apart as long as they build it back up again with recommendations for future iterations. Allows for participants to have a conversation about the contents.
  • Infographics — visual feedback is easy to digest and uses quick digestible facts — Sam Rye and Andrew Coulson
  • Word Clouds — Sam Rye
  • Social Media — use to announce key points and link to further information on our website — Merryn Spencer
  • Social Media — to reach the broader population — Brenton Chappell
  • Tools like Vocaleyes suggested by Sarah Hoss and TownHallApp suggested by developer of said app Keren Flavell allow thoughts, comments and ideas to be collected online but also have automated feedback options through email collection so direct feedback can be provided on how comments are used.
  • Canva — a design tool that lets you create pretty awesome posters, leaflets, Facebook posts and Instagram’s for use in feedback… and to some extent its free –commsgodigital Facebook group

So as we can see there is certainly a movement in thinking more creatively in providing feedback and I think this is mainly down to tools being more freely available and easier to use without training. Hopefully utilising these more accessible communication tools and platforms will help those carrying out community engagement ‘close the loop’ more often and more readily.

From the discussions I had in preparing this post it was also clear that people seem to favour giving feedback in the same way as they have engaged the community as it’s all about the people. So if you collected comments via face to face public meetings then that’s how you should feedback, if online via Facebook then feedback via Facebook…. Maybe use an infographic designed in Canva or a quick autoplay video to say thank you.

Lastly I would like to highlight that whether you use traditional or creative ways to feedback its quite clear that it should be planned right from the start of the process, maybe by identifying key milestones to talk about, and where possible these should run concurrent within the engagement process so feedback is constant. Most of all in ‘closing the loop’ make sure you
‘Sing from the rafters all you have achieved’ Adam Harper via LinkedIn.

Thanks to all who contributed, I hope I did your comments justice.

Originally published at on October 11, 2015.

Innovative Community Engagement. @engage2act Director and Board member, #engage2act advocate, #gatehashing instigator.

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