Accountability

A series on Accountability. Part IV. Feedback and Complaints – Can you hear me?

AAP Principle 3. Feedback and Complaints: Actively seek the views of affected populations to improve policy and practice in programming, ensuring that feedback and complaints mechanisms are streamlined, appropriate and robust enough to deal with (communicate, receive, process, respond to and learn from) complaints about breaches in policy and stakeholder dissatisfaction.

AAP Principle III: Feedback and complaints

Leaders of humanitarian organizations will actively seek the views of affected populations to improve policy and practice in programming, ensuring that feedback and complaints mechanisms are streamlined, appropriate and robust enough to deal with (communicate, receive, process, respond to and learn from) complaints about breaches in policy and stakeholder dissatisfaction.

A 2018 Internews assessment report revealed that while almost 90% of organizations operating in Cox’s Bazar have established feedback mechanisms, they rely heavily on complaint boxes and phone lines despite their inaccessibility due to low literacy levels and phone access restrictions. Another widely distributed report published on December 2017 noted that while communities preferred radio and face-to-face conversations, the humanitarian community still prefers system that they are more comfortable with, like written forms, posters and fliers, suggestion boxes.

According to the CDAC real-time evaluation of the response, as of July 2018, in Bangladesh, as in most other emergencies, Communication with Communities activities are still heavily under-resourced. Some help desks have been established in the camps and are increasing in number, but their coverage is incomplete, and referrals are often made without a clear oversight of the existing services, with no response-level core standards established for this service delivery. Often not all recipients of feedback and complaints have staff trained in handling and referral of sensitive complaints including gender-based violence (GBV) and protection against sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA).

Complaints data stored by a variety of humanitarian actors has varying levels of data protection, with unencrypted emails and storage devices. High staff turnover is also a problem with CwC and AAP positions often being filled for only 3 months at a time, resulting in agencies having to continually re-start conversations. This is the result both of lack of funding and of agencies not prioritizing staff and other resources for AAP.

While everyone recognizes the need for an integrated formal referral mechanism for feedback and complaints, there are no data standards or data privacy policies in place to enable this.

In Bangladesh, there is a common feedback mechanism, which most aid agencies want to participate in, but very few have staff on the ground with the authority to make programmatic decisions and the systems in place to handle these decisions.

Basically only feedback that do not require activities to be changed are the one that can be meaningfully responded to by humanitarian organization on the ground.

While a lot of pressure is being put on increasing coordination bodies and create more CWC coordinators positions, the reality is that there is little to coordinate if organizations are not allowed to share their data openly, both for issues related to refugee protection and data security issues.

What emerges from these three reports, is that many aid organization are also reluctant to share negative feedback from beneficiaries with other organizations.  This means that there is a tendency to use mainly aggregated feedback in the form of ‘overall snapshots’ or to identify broad ‘trends’. How feedback is responded to, what is it used for and how a program is adapted based on that feedback is not adequately prioritized.

This issue about setting up feedback mechanisms and not having figure out how they work is also related to their purpose. If feedback is given after the fact, what possible influence feedback can have on humanitarian operations?

Bangladesh was supposed to be the golden-star of a CwC response. The per-existence of the Shongjog platform, created via the DEPP project in 2015, and the creation of a CwC platform at the Cox’s Bazar level in February 2017, were supposed to set the foundation for CwC to be a key component of the scaled-up response from August 2017. But it did not happen.

The problem for me is that when it comes ot implement Feedback mechanisms, two things have been the main focus: who coordinates it, and who does it. The real problem though is that no body really wants to explicitly say what these feedback mechanisms are supposed to do and how. The idea that you can set up a feedback mechanism without entire re-thinking the structure of the organization collecting them is, simply put, unrealistic and naive.

Unfortunately donors have not figure out this either: calls for proposals now almost always require organizations to have some sort of feedback mechanisms, but very little is asked or monitored on how the feedback is used, and what adapting measure the organizations take to respond to these mechanisms.

The thick-box approach to feedback is not only the result of unwillingness to receive feedback from beneficiaries but results primarily from the lack of understanding that feedback mechanisms are supposed to be one tool used to change entirely the way humanitarian organizations operates rather than an add on to “business as usual”.

The reality is a depressing spectacle of organizations trying to maintain their power and their top-driven approach, with an absolute intention not to have that power taken away by affected communities. The idea that these communities could become stakeholders rather than beneficiaries, still needs some thinking apparently.

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