By Chris Gandy
I am sure you can point us to some glaring exceptions, but from my experience I would have to say that the cause-based sector, in this country, has a relatively poor record in effectively listening to their constituents.
Sure we care about the people our programs assist. They are why our organisation exists, why most of us work and volunteer in the sector and why the Government and other funding bodies give financial and in kind support. But when it comes to the design of programs, funding bodies and their service providers tend to adopt a “we know what’s best for you” philosophy which serves to encourage passive recipients and not active participants.
When approaching a social problem from this angle it is easy to justify not truly listening to our constituents and gaining constructive insights and benchmark data that can help enhance and improve our future programs. Also when you consider the challenges of collecting robust data it is almost game over:
It’s hard to get responses – A recent study of long term unemployed people I was involved in illustrates this problem well. Few of the people in the group had Internet access much less a level of literacy to understand and respond to a survey. Also others expressed anxiety that their unemployment benefits would be affected if they responded candidly to the survey.
It’s not cheap – Effectively listening to constituents is a costly exercise and it needs to be funded. As one CEO said to me:
“The Government gives us funds to deliver a service. Not to sit and listen to our clients. As much as we may love to, we don’t have the time nor the money”
It can make us squirm – Often feedback can be confronting. Be honest, when your service has been called into question by a client have you ever thought:
“What do you mean you don’t like our service? We are here to help YOU!”
Despite the difficulty, the cost and unease effective listening throws up, few would deny the benefits both for the service provider and recipients. The importance of fully understanding their customers unmet needs, preferences, expectations, constraints and experience with a product or service in question is not lost on successful for profit businesses. The same should be the case with cause-based organisations.
There are three distinct points in a program’s life when cause-based organisations should seek to effectively listen to the recipients of their service:
- In the design phase it is critical that the recipients needs, preferences, interests, opportunities, and constraints are fully understood and appropriately taken into account.
- When a program is up and running rapid feedback loops and a flexible and adaptable approach to make sure impactful results particularly in dynamic operational environments.
- Upon the completion of the program, listening to recipient experiences will help us check its effectiveness and give valuable inputs into the design of future similar services.
If long term sustainability is a goal of your cause-based organisation, becoming an expert in effectively listening and constructively responding to service recipients will take your organisation a long way down the track towards achieving this.
About the author – Chris Gandy is a Director of Cause and Effective, a group dedicated to leading cause-based organisations to greater sustainability and social impact. For more information check out Cause and Effective’s services here and here. Also you can now follow us on Twitter.