Closing the feedback loop

  • November 2021

We create digital products, services and strategies to include the excluded. In doing so, we promise to understand, involve and respect those marginalised communities for and with whom we are designing.

Their involvement is crucial to our design process, it is the best way to ensure that we are able to fully understand and accommodate the emotional, physical and environmental factors that drive their exclusion.

However, conducting research with marginalised communities can often be intimidating, disruptive and extractive. Participants can be left to feel that they have contributed their time, effort, ideas and enthusiasm to a design process that they never hear another word of.

At Here I Am we consider all research participants to be part of our design team. Whether they have been directly involved in co-creation, or interviewed for broader context. We believe that each participant deserves communication and visibility of how their contribution has impacted the project.

They deserve to know what happened next.

We call this closing the feedback loop.

Closing the feedback loop is now easier than ever

Historically it has been notoriously difficult to reach the marginalised communities that we are designing for, and even harder to share feedback with them on the impact of the contributions.

However, now we are witnessing the first generation of mobile enabled, marginalised individuals. Mobile internet use has been growing steadily year on year in LMICs, which now account for just over three quarters of the connected population*.

Through a range of digital channels, we are finally able to truly co-create with the hardest to reach communities and as such it is now our duty to break the extractive dynamic, and close the feedback loop.

4 steps to closing the loop

We don’t pretend to have all the answers yet, but the following 4 step process is the first iteration of our framework for respectfully closing the feedback loop.

1: Make the feedback tailorable

Our first rule is to allow the research participants to opt in to the type of feedback they would like to receive. Our experience tells us that some participants are eager to hear more about the direction that the project is taking, but that may not be the case for everyone. We propose a simple tiered feedback model that they can customise to suit their interest level, to include frequency and duration of communication. Of course they must be able to opt out at any time.

2: Share project updates at key moments

We recommend a share back to research participants at the end of each project phase, eg. after; Discovery, Design, Development and Pilot. Key moments such as the Pilot commencing and final product launches should also be shared ahead of each launch. Each update should include strategy and design decisions that have been made as a consequence of research participant involvement.

The HIA Feedback Loop

3: Credit research contributions (if opted in)

As the research commences, participants should be asked whether they would like to be credited or remain anonymous for their contributions. For those who are happy to be publicly credited, we will include the names of contributors in all key project updates. Highlighting specific impact that key contributors have had on the project direction. We will also publicly credit these contributors on the final product or service. This is something that has been very well received by research participants and co-creators on our recent Equality Accelerator project with Plan International.

Given the contexts in which we operate we often deal with incredibly sensitive subject matters, so public credit would of course only be applied when appropriate.

4: Create a channel for them to provide feedback on their experience

It’s crucial that research participants have a channel to provide their own feedback on their experience of the engagement with us. It should be made clear that this channel is disconnected from those who conducted the research in order for participants to have the confidence to share their experience. Receiving this feedback from our participants strengthens our path of continuous improvement when it comes to our goal of respectfully co-designing with hard-to-reach communities.

We would love to hear any further ideas for how we can strengthen this framework, so please feel free to give us a Tweet @hereiamstudio1 or email hello@hereiamstudio.com

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*GSMA, The State of Mobile Internet Connectivity 2021