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Reflections from Programme Manager, Emily Tomkys Valteri on the Your Word Counts Programme as the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) Responsive Listening through Improved Feedback Mechanisms Project ends.

The Your Word Counts programme has sought to strengthen accountability through feedback mechanisms which are safe, confidential and trustworthy. Beginning as a small HIF pilot in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, this grew to a HIF implementation ‘Responsive Listening’ project spanning five countries in the Middle East.  Here we looked to innovate the way in which feedback data is collected, managed and responded to using technology.

The evaluation has been completed showing positive results and real impact in accountability and feedback mechanisms. Collecting, managing and responding to feedback received through multiple channels from the people we work with enables staff to:

  1. be better informed
  2. take swifter action when required
  3. use evidence to influence the programme where valuable.

Staff consistency has been a key benefit in making this project a success. Both in the Programme Management and wider ICT in Programme team, who have provided invaluable support over the two years, and the country level. Focal points in each country have remained consistent across the two years which has been instrumental to success. The passion and commitment of these staff members, to be accountable to the people Oxfam supports in each country, has created positive programme changes based from the priorities and perceptions of the community members themselves.

‘I am proud that we built trust through transparency, and that communities feel like someone is listening.’ - MEAL staff member, Oxfam

What has been surprising?

I always knew that shifting culture takes time and can be painstakingly slow. I am surprised that we have seen a noticeable positive culture shift in accountability. Not only from our staff and partners but also seeing a change at the community level which has filtered down from the work our country teams are doing.

A country Monitoring Evaluation Accountability and Learning (MEAL) staff member at our 2019 learning event in Iraq reflected: “I am proud that we built trust through transparency, and that communities feel like someone is listening.”

Changing culture remains the largest challenge of the Your Word Counts programme. However a shift in this timeframe is a positive path to be on, and one that can continue to improve over time.

What hasn’t been surprising?

I am not surprised that the technology worked. There has been widespread satisfaction on the use of SurveyCTO as a mobile case management system and PowerBI for data visualisation (connected through Oxfam’s programme DataHub). Not only has the technology delivered on expectations, it has proven to be both sustainable and scalable. We made distinct decisions to not build bespoke technology for this project (beyond integration). Instead we utilised tools that were available for a manageable price at the country level. Having Oxfam’s ICT in Programme team on hand has been a key reason for success – but the technology has been the simplest part of this project.

The future is bright

Although the Responsive Listening HIF project has ended, the future is bright for digital accountability. The positive outcomes of this evaluation have shown that the technology and methodology provide an effective platform to improve responsiveness. It works to improve overall country-level accountability towards staff, partners and the communities Oxfam works in.

This project also kickstarted a human centred design research project. Within this we are further developing our holistic understanding of the barriers related to misconduct reporting among community members and field staff. It will also help us to understand the conditions where people feel they can come forward and speak up.

The Your Word Counts programme is set to scale.

From continuing and scaling within four countries in the HIF project, to an ambition for all Oxfam countries to locally adapt this way of working. This won’t simply be a replication of what has been done to date. Strategically, we will be working towards:

  • how we can localise and put this in the hands of communities and local partners
  • adapt to improve ways to safely report misconduct
  • coordinate with other agencies
  • use the technology for social accountability to link citizen feedback with governments.

We can’t do this all at once – but scaling will look to push the boundaries further. We will continue to harness the power that digital technology can bring to the accountability journey both for Oxfam and the wider sector.

We are always looking for ways to collaborate and share learning. If you are working on a similar project, or facing similar challenges, please do feel free to reach out to me, Emily Tomkys Valteri as I would love to hear from you.

Feature Photo: Helpdesk at a hygiene voucher distribution point in Alwash village, Iraq. Photo: Haider AlCharmondy/Oxfam

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