Empowering Families: Building Quality Feedback Loops to Support Better Outcomes

Last month, the Empowering Families Learning Community co-hosted a webinar with Listen4Good, an initiative of the Fund for Shared Insight. This blog post highlights key learnings from the webinar and  opportunities for readers interested in building some of these best practices in their own context.

Overview of Empowering Families: The Empowering Families Initiative is a national cohort of communities working to improve outcomes for children and families through the use of Integrated Data Systems (IDS) and outcomes-oriented contracting. Through the Empowering Families Initiative, seven state and county governments have received technical assistance from Third Sector Capital Partners and Actionable Intelligence for Social Policy (AISP). Empowering Families sites seek to improve coordination of programs to foster the well-being of the family (both parents and their children) using a two-generation approach.

Overview Listen4Good: Listen4Good (L4G) is a Fund for Shared Insight (Shared Insight) initiative designed to help nonprofits build sustainable, high-quality, client-focused feedback loops that lead to meaningful change. Since 2016, Shared Insight has made more than 215 L4G grants totaling $9.4 million, enabling more than 100,000 individuals served by nonprofits nationwide to share their perspectives. Two of these grantees are featured in this post, Nurse-Family Partnership and Outreach-Center for Community Resources.

Building feedback loops with service providers and program participants is a crucial component of a strong outcomes-oriented social services delivery system. In such a system all dollars (public and philanthropic) are supporting the many diverse needs of communities which results in improved life outcomes for all members. To realize this vision, government (and provider) agencies require strong feedback loops that elevate provider and program participant voices and, in doing so, increase the power of the community to shape what outcomes government should be paying for.

Feedback loops, therefore, support outcomes-oriented contracting for social services in the following ways:

  • Community Responsiveness: By ensuring the outcome goals of programs reflect a desired future state of participants that is that is meaningful to them, their families, and the community.
  • Continuous Improvement: By elevating solutions from all stakeholders, especially those closest to program implementation, to foster program improvements which drive towards better outcomes, and
  • Contextualizing Data: By contextualizing quantitative program performance data and ensuring decisions are data- and people-informed, rather than blindly data-driven.

During the webinar, Valerie Threlfall of Listen4Good presented the five phases of a high-quality feedback loop that are necessary for effective listening:

  • The first phase is designing an accessible and relevant survey instrument. As an example, Listen4Good has developed a semi-standard survey that includes an adapted version of the Net Promoter Score (NPS) for use in nonprofit feedback loops.
  • The second phase is collecting feedback in a way that captures as many representative participant voices and minimizes courtesy bias.
  • The third phase is interpreting feedback to identify both areas for celebration and areas for improvement, paying particular attention to differential experiences across participant groups.
  • The fourth phase is, responding to feedback by engaging internal and external stakeholders to learn from feedback and most importantly, implement changes based on learning.
  • The fifth and final phase is closing the feedback loop, which is an often overlooked but critical step in which one communicates back to participants what was learned and what the planned response to the feedback is.

We also heard from two Listen4Good grantees, Nurse-Family Partnership and Outreach-Center for Community Resources who shared what the work has looked like in their context. Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) is a community health program that provides home visiting to young, first-time moms-to-be from early pregnancy through to their child’s second birthday. Alexa Cares, NFP’s Feedback Manager, explained their motivation for building a stronger feedback loop with the support of Listen4Good. Alexa shared that before engaging with Listen4Good, NFP actually had a process of gathering feedback from participants but it wasn’t working. Nothing came from it since there was no accountability for closing the loop and addressing what was heard. Moverover, NFP had gathered a lot of qualitative data through its process, but it wasn’t being leveraged to inform continuous improvement and drive better outcomes. Through the work with Listen4Good, NFP has developed a strong culture of gathering feedback to inform how services are delivered at the organization. For example, NFP heard from moms that they wanted opportunities to meet other moms through the program. As a result, NFP has hired new positions and developed resources to support group-based activities. As a result of the work with Listen4Good, NFP has added a organizational value statement to reflect the importance of listening: “With an intentional and intense sense of urgency to change lives, we will actively listen to and persistently serve our families and our implementation network.”

At Outreach-Center for Community Resources (Outreach), an organization that provides programs to promote family stability and economic self-sufficiency, they never had the capacity to build feedback loops, according to their Executive Director, Linda Ciampi. Through Listen4Good, they developed the infrastructure for and a feedback loop with participants of a program based at a local prison. Using the feedback received, Outreach made substantive changes to their program to better meet the unique needs of participants. One key piece of feedback that Outreach received and responded to was the desire of participants for a General Education Development (GED) program. Now, months later, 95% of participants taking the GED program have passed. With this new feedback infrastructure in place, Outreach is not only better positioned to receive and respond to the needs of participants but also to develop and share participant-informed program changes with funders, in a way that is authentic and credible and demonstrates how the changes will support better outcomes.

Building strong feedback loops with providers and program participants enable government agencies and service providers to better understand the experience of program participants in ways that are deeper, more personalized, and more nuanced than quantitative data allows.  As have been demonstrated by NFP and Outreach, feedback loops are crucial to making participant-driven changes to services, increasing the accountability of service providers to respond to the participant experience, and communicating to funders with greater credibility on the program and program impact. It is, therefore, important that government, provider, and funder agencies prioritize qualitative (feedback) data, in addition to quantitative data, to truly understand the experience of program participants, the program impact in real terms, and to continuously tailor services in response to participants’ needs as they drive towards collectively desired outcomes.

To read more about Empowering Families sites working to strengthen Feedback Loops in their communities, check out these blog posts:

If you are interested in learning more about Empowering Families, contact Miranda Beggin (mbeggin@thirdsectorcap.org) and for Listen4Good, reach out to Valerie Threlfall (valerie@fundforsharedinsight.org).

If you are a direct service organization (government agency or non-profit), check out this opportunity from Listen4Good to build a high-quality feedback loop at your organization. Applications are due May 10th!