Feedback, feedback, feedback.
We all ask for it, but how do we capture meaningful feedback from our organization's constituents and use it?
In my time as a strategic planner, I have seen planning initiatives struggle or even dismantle because the wrong people were involved, asked the wrong questions, at the wrong time.
If you have ever participated in a strategic planning initiative, you know how vital it is to encourage and implement constituent feedback throughout the planning process. But, how?
First, including feedback from your organization's constituents has several benefits:
-Provides a realistic view of the assets and needs of the organization (and the community it serves)
-Incorporates honest perceptions of the organization
-Provides updated and new goals for the organization to achieve
-Generates enthusiasm and "buy-in" for the organization
-Determines what's working and not working within the organization
Let's break it down by taking a look at who your organization's constituents are, what they should be contributing to, when they should be involved in the planning process, and how they should be giving your organization feedback.
Who Are Your Organization's Constituents?
In short, constituents, are your organization's "people". They can either be directly involved or indirectly involved in your organization. I address these groups of people as your Bottom-Up, Outside-In, and Top-Down constituents.
These groups include the people or communities your organization serves or those affected by your organization, funders/ funding organizations, organizational alliances or partners, lower to mid-level staff (the organization's "boots on the ground" people), and of course organizational leaders.
Be intentional and strategic on why you want feedback from these specific groups of people.
Do they have influence in the organization? Will they prioritize the goals of the plan? Does the plan have a direct impact on them? Will they "buy-in" into the goals and priorities of the organization?
When I work with organizations determining the right people, I use this free stakeholder analysis matrix template.
Using a stakeholder analysis tool will give you a "bird's eye view" of the constituents you will want to include maybe because of their level of influence, what is important to them, and/or what they could contribute.
Doing so will help determine the right people, rather than just a generic push for feedback.
PRO TIP: If you are new to strategic planning, the stakeholder analysis is an excellent way to determine who you would like to invite to begin developing a plan for your organization.
What Feedback Should Your Constituents Be Contributing?
The feedback from your constituents should be directed by the goal(s) and outcomes your organization wants to achieve through the planning process. Again, you want to be intentional and strategic on what your organization is requesting from your constituents. Don't ask generic questions that aren't substantial to them or the planning goals.
Before you reach out to your desired constituents, define what questions you want to ask.
Are you seeking feedback about programming, client satisfaction, public perception, job satisfaction? The Community Tool Box has some great examples of questions to get you started!
Asking the right questions will help give your organization a more clear path on how to steer the planning initiative.
PRO TIP: When asking thought-provoking questions, I use an acronym I learned in high school.
Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Not the most uplifting acronym, but easy to remember. Keeping your questions simple and purposeful, whether they are open or close-ended, will allow your constituents not to feel overwhelmed by lengthy or complicated questions.
When Should Your Constituents Feedback Be Included in the Planning Process?
Feedback should be incorporated in every stage of the planning process, from the initial development phase to the M&E phase.
Again, it's important to determine the right people that need to be included from the get-go. Don't forget to utilize the Stakeholder Analysis tool we talked about earlier.
Start with a basic "temperature check" with all the desired constituents before the planning process.
This will give you a base starting point.
During the planning phase, when you're developing goals and actions.
Again, having the right people during this phase is crucial.
The draft of the plan.
Asking those defined questions will really define the goals and actions of the proposed plan.
The implementation stage of the plan.
There is where you'll see if your constituents are enthusiastic about the plan or if they are going to buy-in to the plan.
The Monitoring and Evaluation of the plan (after implementing the plan).
This is where your organization may need to make edits and adjustments to the plan.
How Should Your Constituents Give Feedback?
I'm going to say this again...You want to be intentional and strategic on what you want from the feedback and the intent on how it will be utilized throughout the planning process.
By determining what you want specifically from the feedback will determine how it should be presented to the organization's constituents.
You will also want to consider the best platform for your constituents to provide their feedback. For example, if you want to use a survey, should it be a digital or paper format? Should it be anonymous or face-to-face? If you work with the homeless population, an online survey is most likely not feasible.
Here is another chapter from The Community Tool Box for you to consider what platforms would be best for your constituents to provide feedback.
Stay away from biased questions or siloed conversations.
Sometimes we unintentionally ask bias questions. Asking bias questions or not including minority constituents can lead to misrepresentation of the organization's constituents, creating an equity and inclusion gap in your organization's strategic plan!
To avoid this, I suggest using this Leading Practices: Understanding and Reducing Bias tool provided by Alchemer as well as reaching other methods to reduce biased questions and siloed conversations.
Consider the timing of your planning initiative.
We want constituents to provide their feedback at a time that is most convenient for them as well as the organization.
Be mindful about the timing of when you want your constituent's feedback and when it will be used in the planning initiative. For example, if your organization is conducting a focus group with foster parents, consider a time that is most convenient for them, not just within the operating hours of our organization and when their feedback will be utilized in the planning phases.
Be honest about the intent of the feedback.
It's a good rule of thumb not to hide the reason(s) why you're collecting feedback. Your organization has a better chance of collecting meaningful feedback if the participants understand why you want their opinions in the first place. Think about it. When you complete surveys, do you just fly through them or do you answer with purpose?
I cannot stress the importance of getting the right people, asking the right questions, at the right time during your organization's strategic planning initiative. Fostering a feedback loop for your constituents to engage in is a step forward to organizational success. By incorporating honest feedback in your organization, it creates a pathway for innovation and positive change in your organization.