Across the country, many nonprofits and government agencies are grappling with how best to create a culture of continuous learning to get better results. Many organizations use performance management systems to measure client outcomes, but there is a need to complement these data with short-cycle or ongoing feedback from clients that helps organizations understand how to make meaningful changes to their programs and services so that they have a real impact on clients’ lives. Client feedback loops have emerged in the service sector as an alternative to these models, with the goal of integrating a low-burden and inclusive process into organizations’ everyday business. But there is little research and documentation about what it takes to implement successful, impactful, and ethical feedback loops.
In 2015, the Urban Institute partnered with Feeding America, the nation’s biggest nongovernmental organization devoted to fighting hunger, received a three-year research grant through the Fund for Shared Insight to fund a feedback loop pilot, Pathways for Community Voices. Urban and FA designed a pilot to rigorously test and document ways to integrate client feedback loops into the organizational culture of two food banks and their local member agency partners, including food pantries and meal programs. With this support, the local Pathways teams iteratively codesigned all aspects of the process with clients, from identifying priorities, to selecting feedback methods, to refining feedback questions, to reflecting on feedback, brainstorming solutions, and finding the best ways to close the loop. This report documents the process of building, testing, and learning from client feedback loops and offers practitioner-oriented recommendations to sustain feedback loops in social service agencies.