Currently, I am interning with Ushahidi. It has been an enlightening experience so far. One of the intriguing issues which I came across during a discussion with Sarah George was the low response rate of the feedback forms sent to the Ushahidi deployments.
The process of efficient and effective feedback collection is very critical. Proper feedback collection will give the Ushahidi team a clearer idea of the value of the system and help them to identify potential improvements. Moreover, genuine feedback collection will help Ushahidi to buy a lot of credibility among the wiser donors. Therefore, we (me and Sarah) further discussed this issue of low feedback response rate and the measures required to improve it. This blog is a summary of those discussions.
In 2007, while working for an Indian NGO, my team faced a similar problem of low feedback response rate. We formulated an approach which led to an improvement in the collection of feedback. I think some parallels can be drawn from that approach which might help Ushahidi to improve the feedback response rate, at least marginally!
Apart from some specific factors influencing the lack of feedback responses pointed out by Sarah, generally the lack of feedback responses can be attributed to the fact that – implementers consider it as extra work, or the implementers wish to conceal some information. Both these issues have possible solutions – technical, economic and legal.
Let us tackle each issue one at a time.
Implementers consider feedback as extra work
One potential solution to improve the feedback response rate is to incentivize it. For example, the implementer can be promised one (or maybe more) hour of support from Ushahidi (technical or non-technical) or maybe a mention on the Ushahidi blog if he provides proper feedback. Moreover, publicizing the feedback collection process as a practice aimed at improving the Ushahidi system rather than just a passive data collection process might just encourage the implementers to give their feedback. However, to make all this work we do need to figure out the proper tools (or modes) for communication – an issue which merits further discussion.
Technically, it is possible to devise automatic feedback mechanisms within softwares. If Ushahidi develops a system enabling automatic feedback collection without user intervention, a dependable mechanism for feedback collection can be developed. In fact, the Mogadishu Ushahidi release included a function to enable implementers to share their site statistics with Ushahidi but beyond that other automatic feedback mechanisms (tracking browser history, user logs etc.) have not been implemented in Ushahidi so far. I do understand that dedicating resources for the development of an automatic feedback collection mechanism within the Ushahidi system might be a huge bottleneck right now. However, I do believe that sooner or later an intelligent feedback response system will need to be developed if a dependable mechanism for feedback collection has to be operationalized.
Implementers want to conceal information
When the terms and conditions of the contract between Ushahidi and the implementers are setup, a clause can be put in the contract stating that the implementers will need to share their feedback with Ushahidi. Subsequently, the feedback can be used to improve the Ushahidi system. Currently, there is no contract between the implementers and Ushahidi. However, all the users receive an introduction email that includes the request that they share feedback.
These are some of the ideas I have gathered during discussions with Sarah. I do appreciate the fact that a lot of thinking and discussions are needed to develop an actual implementation model for these suggestions if they are found worthy of implementation. On another note, I observe some similarities between the potential solutions to improve the feedback response rate and the potential measures to improve the crowd participation in a crowdsourcing initiative. Therefore, this issue might be visualized from this perspective as well.