How ya doin?
Here in the northeastern part of the United States that question (along with its variants, ‘What’s up?’, ‘How’s it going’) is a familiar greeting. We say it in polite passing, taking little note of the other person’s response which is usually a reflexive ‘Good, you?’ But what if we posed that question regularly, with an ear to listening for differences in responses?
That’s exactly what LIFT, a national organization that works to lift people out of poverty does. Since last year, we’ve been having an ongoing conversation with the LIFT team. Recently, we spent an afternoon at LIFT’s Philadelphia office as part of our collaboration with Feedback Labs, a consortium of organizations focused on developing simple tools to create the kind of feedback loops that lead to higher impact. This is the first in a series of monthly posts where we’ll highlight how such tools are being used in practice.
LIFT works in eight high-poverty communities across the country. Their clients – referred to as ‘Members’ – work with LIFT volunteers and staff advocates to achieve goals related to improving housing, education, and employment. In addition, LIFT Advocates work to strengthen members’ connections to the local community, helping to identify supportive relationships and positive role models.
LIFT had been seeing good progress in their members’ achievement of ‘hard outcomes’ such as improved housing, educational attainment, and employment. However a few years ago, LIFT began incorporating feedback from program beneficiaries into programming itself, asking
“What do our Members have to say about our services, and how can we use their feedback to improve those services?”
We saw their method firsthand: In the LIFT-Philadelphia office, there are two iPads affixed to the wall by the small desk in their reception area. On the iPads are short, interactive surveys for LIFT members to take after their meetings with their LIFT advocates and volunteers. The surveys might include statements like “I have family, friends or neighbors in my life that support me,” or “Today at LIFT, I was treated with courtesy, dignity, and respect.” Members rate the extent to which they agree or disagree. We took a sample survey. It was a quick, simple, relatively low-cost way to regularly capture information on how things were going.
LIFT-Philadelphia found that members who reported stronger relationships with the community achieved five times more progress toward their desired economic goals, such as finding a job or stable housing and accessing benefits. Ongoing efforts suggest that such relationship metrics – i.e., indicators of the quality of relationships – may help predict economic outcomes, at least in some circumstances, though further analysis is needed to prove this hypothesis. With this hypothesis in mind, LIFT is now working to improve their services to maximize the quality of the relationships in members’ lives. LIFT’s hope is that, by strengthening members’ social capital, these individuals and their families can better achieve their economic goals.
Kirsten Lodal, CEO and co-founder of LIFT, described the importance of this method at her address at New Profit’s 2014 Gathering of Leaders. “The simple act of demonstrating to our members that we value what they have to say and will act on it is so powerful,” said Lodal. “If we’re not paying attention to this, we’re not doing our jobs.” She added, “All people are the ultimate experts in their own lives, and deserve to be the chief architects of their future. We believe this as a community, and so, we listen.”
We’ll be listening too.
For those interested in learning more, some resources to get you started:
An online primer on constituent voice from our Feedback Labs partners, Keystone Accountability: https://www.keystoneaccountability.org/about/publicreport/what
Hewlett Foundation leaders on the importance of listening: https://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/listening_to_those_who_matter_most_the_beneficiaries
How a community development organization approached constituent voice: https://www.frbsf.org/community-development/files/Grieve_Visser.pdf