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Closing the Feedback Loop


The commitment to open policy development and innovative methods is a cornerstone of Canada Beyond 150. Teams have been collaborating with a broad range of people throughout the program.

A number of participants have asked for advice on practical ways to share what they have heard so far, and whether they need to act on the feedback. The answer is yes. As a minimum starting point, we all need to acknowledge the insights people share with us, honestly and respectfully. We know that Canadians care about their government engaging with them, and seeing evidence that their insights are helping shape policy.

We’ve met with a few people, and I’m still digesting what I learned. What can I do in the meantime?

Write an awesome thank you note. Be specific, acknowledging two or three key points you heard. For example: “thank you for helping us understand why [X, Y, and Z] are so important to you.” Reflect on something that was new to you, or had a personal impact. Perhaps:  “I was amazed to learn about, for example, the value of sustainability practices for your brewing process.”

Want to work more openly? Consider social media, or blogging about what you’ve heard.

There’s also a huge benefit to talking about what you are learning from the process itself. Sharing our learning helps build relationships, and encourages others to contribute to the conversation and stay involved in our learning journey, and encourages others to contribute to the conversation

We got feedback we can’t use. What should we do?

A lot goes into getting good insights and perspectives. Take a moment and reflect, both on what happened and what you can learn from it. Ask yourself:

  • How did your process design affect the quality or quantity of feedback you received?
  • How did you ask your questions?
  • Did you provide your stakeholders and partners with enough information about constraints or challenges in order that they could discuss trade-offs with you?
  • Had you established the mutual trust that would make this possible?

There is a huge benefit to exposing how you will use the information ahead of time, so people can plan accordingly. If you are comfortable, consider sharing your challenges so others can learn from them.

Consider whether you are limiting yourself in how you use what you learned. While you may not have received what you were hoping for, it is possible that it can be useful in other ways.

  • Did it broaden your understanding of the environment, or key players’ priorities?
  • Were you able to exchange ideas on related issues?
  • How might the relationship help you for your work on this, or other projects?
  • Is the feedback something that could help a colleague?
  • Is there a case to re-engage with these stakeholders?
  • What did you learn about how people interact with government?
  • Did you get any ideas about what might make it easier the next time?
  • Is there a case for having another conversation?

As with many relationships, it may take more than one conversation to truly get the best from one another.

We have decided on something other than what our stakeholder recommended. What should we say?

In short: tell people what you decided, and why. As public servants, our job is to analyze evidence and develop options, recognizing they all come with trade offs. By exposing the process of doing the analysis and developing options, everyone has an opportunity to learn. Depending on how you arrived at a different option, you may want to talk about process (e.g., if your team voted on which policy question to consider), or to provide a more analytical rationale.

If you heard great ideas that you have decided not to use, there could be value in sharing the ideas for others to pick up. For example, consider tweeting an insight (with permission) or posting resources people shared with you on GCCollab. Perhaps even develop a “director’s cut” post outlining some of the amazing things you heard that didn’t make their way into the final intervention. The goal is to demonstrate that you have listened to what people have to say, and are being transparent about what you have done with their contributions.

Continuing the conversation: what’s next? How can people continue to participate?

As a start, here are three directions:

  1. Continuing this conversation: How does this advice resonate? What other things have you tried and how was the experience? Is there anything getting in the way of sharing more of what you have heard? What might help with that?
  2. Putting this into practice: Are there ideas or questions above that you would like to try?
  3. Inviting others to join the conversation: Would any of your partners like to write about their experiences, or what they learned? Consider making it easy for them: comment on one of their tweets, or share something and make it easy for them to chime in.

Why does this all matter? What will success look like?

Having a conversation helps illuminate the policy issues from a variety of perspectives. Other Canada Beyond 150 participants may see links to their own work. Public servants working on related files learn about the discussion, and potential new insights that come from looking at things through a foresight or design lens. Acknowledge the people who have shared their time and expertise, and also reflect back how their insights had an impact on your thinking.

At a macro level, sharing what we heard contributes to better overall transparency and accountability. Like in any good conversation, reflecting back what you heard gives people an opportunity to clarify their intention, and may even help them to see things in new ways. Working openly means others can then keep building on the ideas. With more diversity of ideas, experiences, and contexts shaping a policy intervention, come better outcomes.

Susan is passionate about creating spaces for dialogue and collaboration on complex issues. She is currently working with the Consultations and Public Engagement team at the Privy Council Office, which provides government-wide oversight on all high profile consultations. Read more »

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