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Community Action: Prioritizing Voices Close to Home

Aug 13, 2020

Most for-profit companies go out of their way to gather and implement customer feedback in order to increase profits, strengthen buyer loyalty, and expand their customer base. So why doesn’t every nonprofit organization go to the same lengths to listen to the beneficiaries and communities they aim to serve?

A nonprofit can listen to the voices of beneficiaries in a variety of ways, but organizations fail in this area for many reasons. That failure can result from a lack of trust in beneficiary perspectives, or a fear that the feedback they receive will put their approach into question, or simple ignorance of how to effectively gather feedback from the communities they serve. The traditional structure of nonprofit organizations can also be partly to blame, because they often feel an incentive to consider funder imperatives over the people meant to benefit from their programs. Beneficiaries typically aren’t paying for the provided services and may feel they have to accept a flawed approach (rather than provide feedback that could risk forfeiting the aid altogether).

Non-profit organizations that center around beneficiary voices were a rarity not long ago, but a shift is occurring. Beneficiary feedback initiatives implemented by organizations such as GreatNonprofits and Keystone Accountability have popped up over the past several years, with the goal of bringing beneficiary perspectives to the forefront by allowing individuals to leave reviews and feedback about their personal experiences with nonprofit organizations.

Prioritizing input from beneficiaries and community members is not only a moral imperative but also good practice if you want to achieve the best possible outcomes. By prioritizing voices closest to the issues, organizations can develop nuanced and effective solutions to problems around the world. Nonprofit organizations can center community perspectives and create effective feedback loops in several different ways.

Conduct On-the-Ground Research

To understand the needs and perspectives of beneficiaries, take the first step of researching firsthand the region and community you’re working with. Preliminary online and academic research can be useful, but there’s no substitute for immersing yourself in a community and talking with people in the area.

At Population Media Center (PMC), we use research throughout the process of creating our radio and television shows. To create engaging storylines, culturally resonant characters, and subplots that are relevant to the audience’s own lives, we must understand lifestyles, behaviors, desires, and media usage. We also study the infrastructures and institutions working in the broadcast areas, and we create a policy framework summarizing national laws and international conventions on the topics to be addressed in the dramas.

This sort of formative research can include focus group discussions, baseline surveys, and even just talking to people on the road or in the market. 

Hire and Consult Community Members

But the best way to center the voices of beneficiaries is to let them do the talking. Hiring and consulting with members of the community provides an excellent way to make sure you don’t lose people’s aspirations and needs in translation. This approach also makes the organization more sustainable, and puts the individuals being assisted in the driver’s seat. 

At PMC, we recruit top local talent to manage the overall project, produce the dramas, and serve as scriptwriters and actors. We hire in-country nationals to carry out projects, and we believe that the resultant local ownership of projects is vital to creating effective programming and contributing to lasting change. 

Gather Real-Time Feedback

Once your organization has conducted research, consulted with community members, and started operating, you should aim to create a feedback loop by gathering a steady flow of responses from stakeholders. Surveys provide a great way to do this, and they can be conducted through a variety of channels to maximize your response rate.

At PMC, we conduct random phone surveys following individual episodes as a way to gauge listener response. Those responses are then forwarded to the production team so they can immediately implement feedback and strengthen future scripts. 

Some of our shows also include an epilogue at the end that encourages listeners to respond to a prompt via text. A prompt might ask a question like, “Do you think [insert character’s name] did the right thing in this situation?” Responses to these prompts not only increase engagement with the programs, but they also shed light on whether the show’s themes are resonating with listeners and sparking community action. 

In addition to phone and text surveys, PMC teams also monitor Twitter, Facebook, and other relevant social media portals to ascertain how the audience is reacting to the project. 

Partner with Local Organizations to Monitor Key Outcomes  

Partnering with local organizations is a good way to get to know the community, but it can also help monitor key outcomes. For example, PMC sets up partnerships with area health clinics in advance of broadcasts. Those partnerships allow us to monitor real-life product and service usage to see whether our shows are actually making an impact on community members.

Clinic employees take note of the number of people who mention a PMC show by name when asked what prompted them to visit the clinic. If a significant number of people in the community are making positive behavior changes as a result of one of our shows, it confirms that our team is on the right track. If there seems to be no apparent impact, our team can adjust the course to better serve the local community. 

Review Past Projects and Implement Lessons Learned  

Once a project is completed, it’s good practice to review what worked and what didn’t, and then implement any changes that allow your organization to better achieve its goals. Beneficiaries are an invaluable resource during this process, and you should seek out their candid responses to gauge the success of the program.

Every time a PMC show wraps, we conduct a random sample survey as a way to assess listener response and improve future programs. We send out trained local surveyors to go door-to-door and verbally ask questions from the survey, to make sure we accommodate language and literacy needs.

Discover More About How Educational Entertainment Can Spark Community Action

When PMC produces a show, we partner with the community at each step of the process. Careful and respectful listening and learning is always key to our success. To learn more about our process, contact us today.