How-to: Refugee Feedback Mechanisms and Inclusion in Decision-Making

Collect and take into consideration feedback from refugees; include refugees in decision-making

ASKING RATHER THAN ASSUMING

Grassroots organisations active in the refugee response are initiatives built by civil society–by people who are interested in improving humanitarian aid and who want to contribute. This means that the people involved (volunteers, supporters etc.) have a close relationship with refugees, and refugees themselves are usually involved in these organisations.

Because of this relationship, many organisations assume that they know what the needs and opinions of refugees are. Although it can be the case that, through personal relationships and conversations, information and ideas are shared and received by volunteers, this is not the case everywhere. Consequently, when there is a lack of this vital communication, many misunderstandings and conflicts can happen. Research done by Koosh has confirmed this and suggested that grassroots organisations should not rely only upon the informal conversations between volunteers and refugees. Rather, they should create official feedback mechanisms, procedures for understanding and incorporating feedback received, and methods through which refugees can take part in the decision-making process at each organisation.

What processes should grassroots organisations implement?

The most imperative component to ensuring clear and productive communication between grassroots organizations and refugees is to give exhaustive information about the organization and the services it offers to its beneficiaries.
RECOMMENDATION: In practice, this could be a weekly schedule of activities and written overview of the services provided, while always bearing in mind the language barriers for beneficiaries. It’s a good idea to complete descriptions with visuals. Informative sessions should also be implemented.

Communication and a supportive environment are the second crucial component. In order to have better communication, a strong and honest relationship should be built between those who are providing the service and the beneficiaries. Grassroots organisations should create a trustworthy, open-minded and positive environment in which people feel comfortable speaking up and sharing their opinions and feedback.
RECOMMENDATION: Ideas for building such an environment are:

  • Creating clear procedures for delivery services, participating in activities and collecting feedback
  • Being open towards both positive and negative feedback, even if similar feedback has already been discussed
  • Empowering individuals interested in taking initiative
  • Accepting mistakes as part of the learning curve

From the research, we determined that the best way to collect feedback is through face-to-face communication. As was mentioned before, relationships can be built through the day-to-day of the organization, but regular, open, and structured discussions (meetings, focus groups, workshops) should be implemented in order to collect feedback through a more formalized medium. These discussions are also an opportunity to strengthen informal relationships. A routine should be set up; meetings should occur on a regular basis. These meetings should take place at the same time, the same day and same location. This is a model used by the most effective feedback mechanisms and it also prevents the feeling of being ‘left out’ for the beneficiaries. The research has shown that those meetings should be facilitated by an authoritative figure from the organisation, such as a manager or coordinator.
RECOMMENDATION: Organisations can implement focus groups or more informal meetings where they can collect feedback (for example: a less formal pizza night). This way, an organisation can create more a relaxed and spontaneous environment. The rule here is to be creative! This doesn’t mean that those meetings have no structure. The process should be very well thought and volunteers/staff leading it trained.

To overcome language barriers, interpreters and cultural mediators are a fundamental part of this process. Interpreters are crucial and must be properly trained. They should be aware of cultural differences and act as cultural mediators as well. Apart from the regular training, interpreters must be given some training in collecting feedback, and facilitating groups – this is one of the most common mistakes made by organisations, to dismiss the importance of training – interpreter/cultural mediator roles contrast a researchers role massively, requiring a completely different set of skills to carry out their roles, therefore with proper training, the disadvantages of using language speakers to facilitate research is highly reduced.
RECOMMENDATION: In practice, translation can occur in two different ways:

  • simultaneous translation – the advantage here is the immediate interaction between all members who participate (staff, volunteers, beneficiaries); the disadvantage is the fluidity of the discourse, possible length of the discussion and emotions getting lost in translation
  • meetings in the native language (interpreters listening and reporting the information afterwards) – the advantage is that people can express themselves freely; the disadvantage is a loss of immediacy and bias of the mediators’ interpretation. Also, this can work only if we suppose that all beneficiaries use the same language

How should grassroots organisations process proposals, ideas, complaints and critique from refugees?

Feedback is the first step of a process that organisations should implement. It should be clear to everybody involved (staff, volunteers, beneficiaries) why the feedback mechanism has been established and how to understand and incorporate the feedback received. Organisations should also be aware that specific positions should always be covered by professionals/long term volunteers. All the staff and volunteers of the organisation should be trainied.
RECOMMENDATION: Grassroots organisations could have a highly accessible informational sheet, in which the feedback process is clearly explained, preferably using visuals.

As was mentioned in the previous section, clear communication of the organisation’s goals, activities and limitations is very important. In this section, we will focus more on the limitations. Organisations should be clear about the services that they provide and the limits of their capacity. It’s important to be transparent, honest and realistic about things that cannot change. This should be communicated effectively. At the same time, grassroots organisations should have referral methods for services that they are not providing. This requires a knowledge of services provided by other organisations.
RECOMMENDATION: Taking into consideration methods of collecting feedback and the limitations of each organisation, a simple process should be established:

    1. What is the received feedback about? What is the complaint? What is the proposal?
    2. What is the most repeated problem, the most common proposal?
    3. What is most realistic to change with respect to existing limitations?
    4. Discussion involving all stakeholders to evaluate the previous steps- what is the most important issue to address?
    5. Discussion involving all stakeholders to design new solution for the identified issue

 

The last two steps include everybody (staff, volunteers, beneficiaries) and the solution must be reached collectively. It’s important to create realistic and sustainable solutions and to create clear processes and responsibilities.
RECOMMENDATION: Organisations should focus mainly on the most repeated issues and discuss them together while still examining individual/minority opinions. These issues could either follow the standard procedure or, in cases involving sensitive information, be discussed privately.

When announcing change resulting from the feedback mechanism, it’s important to mention that the change originates from a feedback/proposal from the community. Even in cases that the groups has decided not to react upon receiving the feedback, the feedback should be announced and the procedure explained so everybody understands that their feedback has been taken into consideration. If the author of the feedback is known, they should also be personally responded to.
RECOMMENDATION: Changes should be announced during regular meetings, as well as on an announcement board placed visibly in the organisation.


What kind of processes should grassroots organisations implement in order to make communication with communities easier?

The ultimate goal of grassroots initiatives in the long term perspective is empowerment rather than providing support. That’s why it’s important not only to collect and react to feedback but to create an environment where refugees, asylum seekers and migrants can take active role in programme design and implementation.

The key points to consider are the following:

Changing the mentality around aid

      • Changing language and vocabulary:
        Think of the language you are using that might be enforcing the idea of “charity”. Now try and replace those with different terms that imply that people receiving these services are entitled to not be happy with the quality or have opinions about them.
        Some examples:

        • “Aid” v. “services”
        • “Refugees” v. “newcomers”, “community members”, “users”, “residents”
        • “Volunteers/aidworkers” v. “providers”; or define by titles (“nurse”, “teacher”, etc.)
      • Publish a clear description of the steps you have planned on taking after consulting with the community to show that feedback resulted in a plan and to be held accountable. This will build trust

Overcoming practical barriers

      • Language: proactively look for translators. There are organisations dedicated to providing translating services
      • If people are not attending activities, ask if they conflict with other activities that are important to them (especially in urban settings)

Overcoming resistance to participation

      • Create shorter cycles for the people staying for a short time (depending on your organisation, this can be 3 weeks, 6 weeks, 1 month, 3 months etc). Assess how frequently people move on and how often you find yourself with a new community. You can still run a similar parallel program with a longer timeline for those with more permanent presence.
      • Create a safe space for discussion (frequent meeting, specific room or time)
      • Ask for feedback – initially informally, then formally

Designing programs together
Often new projects are designed in advance, separately from any feedback. This can stem from a fear of not having all the answers or not wanting to expose any weaknesses (funding not secured, team not fully ready etc.). Feedback after a project is launched is great, but input before is even better.

      • Ensuring widespread feedback
        • If someone brings a proposal, ask them to mobilise 3-5 people around it or to obtain a list of people interested in this service.
        • Expand the ways in which you receive feedback: community meetings; after your activity is finished: ask for quick feedback and opinions informally to get a “temperature check”; and, in camps, door-to-door.
          Multiply the feedback opportunities–one process is not enough–but make sure all feedback ends up in the same place or with the same person.
        • Widen inclusion beyond those the “staff” know or speak more frequently to. Reach out to those who are not as vocal.
        • Face-to-face with someone who has decision-making ability: identify the person in charge of collecting feedback and make it known that it’s their role.
      • Building trust and transparency
        • Don’t overpromise
        • Define what resources are available and what can be realistically achieved
        • Include whoever from the community wants to be in your team meetings or publish your meeting minutes and make it possible for people to send in comments for your next meeting
      • Giving agency and increasing ownership of projects
        • If someone brings a proposal, ask them to mobilise 3-5 people around it or to obtain a list of people interested in this service.
        • Review people’s expertise/knowledge/experience and consult them on relevant topics (for example: a former teacher or a graduate student for education)
        • Involve people with relevant skills in the running of a program

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