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Real Geek: Building trust through accountability

Posted by Emily Tomkys ICT in Programme Accountability Project Manager

14th Dec 2016

Oxfam engineers work to install the first water network in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan, September 2015

Oxfam's Humanitarian Informal Feedback project funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) has recently come to a close. Here Project Manager Emily Tomkys shares the evaluation report  and delves deeper into one specific finding: the link between trust and accountability.

Receiving feedback from communities that organisations like Oxfam work with is an essential pillar of ensuring our work is responsive and accountable in humanitarian crises. The humanitarian informal feedback project was designed to electronically capture and manage feedback from communities with whom Oxfam works. The tool was designed to work alongside other feedback mechanisms, such as hotlines and suggestion boxes, providing an automated case referral system which allows greater efficiency for teams to manage and follow up on feedback received. 

The Humanitarian Information Feedback project piloted the use of this tool in Za'atari camp over a three month period. We recently concluded an evaluation of this pilot, and a key finding of the evaluation is the link between trust and accountability mechanisms. The evaluation demonstrated that community centre volunteers (who collect feedback) liked the mechanism not only because it enabled a quicker response time and was easier than writing feedback down, but because they'd noticed an increase in trust from the community. A change which was also recognised by Oxfam programme staff. 

"People trust me more now, since they've seen me writing complaint into the handset. Before, if I wrote it on some paper, they thought I might throw it away." (Oxfam Community Mobiliser Volunteer)

Listening and responding to needs quickly has created trust This finding has shown that Oxfam has been perceived to be listening, responding and adapting to feedback quickly. Although the technology created a perceived legitimacy, we know that it does not in and of itself create or maintain trust. It is our staff listening and responding to community needs quickly that has created the trust, but the use of this mechanism made it easier and faster and helped formalise a way of working that had been harder to achieve in a paper based form.

"If it gets written down, it might end up on someone's to do list, it may get put into excel - but the workflow isn't formalised under people's roles and responsibilities. Automatically digitising this hasn't been done before." (Project Manager)

Maintaining this trust is key, but in itself has been a challenge even in the short three month time frame that our pilot in Za'atari lasted. Connectivity issues resulted in the system being offline for six weeks where no data could be transferred to the server, and this considerably affected Oxfam's ability to respond to feedback given on the tool which put the trust gained by the community at risk. We have since switched the software and the new software allows for data transfer with no connectivity meaning that any future connectivity issues will present less of a barrier (as well as addressing sustainability in cost and data protection concerns).

Other key findings in the evaluation the team highlighted in the management response include;

  • The need to foster an accountability culture amongst staff through training and job profiles to improve internal ways of working 
  • Recognition of the demand on already limited staff time and so the need for more resources to respond to feedback
  • Doing more with our data - the short time for the pilot did not allow us to explore trends in the data as much as we would have liked to
  • The need for clearer categorisation, roles and responsibilities and Standard Operating Procedures for collectors, technical teams updating and closing feedback as well as how to handle referrals

Many of the recommendations around the technology itself have already been addressed, so the focus moving forwards will be on the accountability culture and training with staff and partners looking to use this system. As we build greater use of this tool, we will be able to gain greater insight into how Oxfam is being data driven and reacting and adapting to feedback received. With initial use showing that the technology has helped increase trust between Oxfam and the new communities we work with, we hope staff will be incentivised to use this feedback mechanism as a way to give communities a voice and for staff to demonstrate all the hard work they are doing.  

As mentioned in a previous blog post, this is as much about the refugees, listening and responding to their priorities, as it is about the people striving everyday to deliver services to the refugees, to do it better, and to be recognised for the work that they do.

To hear more about this project see the HIF website which has the project information and the monthly blogs we have been writing on the progress of the pilot. 

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Photo: Oxfam engineers work to install the first water network in Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan, on September 20, 2015. Credit: Sam Tarling

Blog post written by Emily Tomkys

ICT in Programme Accountability Project Manager

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