Forgetting to share back the findings of a survey or focus group can leave your stakeholders feeling frustrated. Closing the loop with clients and stakeholders builds trust and ensures that communication is flowing both ways. “Closing the loop” is one of the most important parts of engagement. No one wants to feel like their input or feedback has vanished into a black hole. Forgetting to share back the findings of a survey or focus group can leave your stakeholders feeling frustrated. They may feel that their input was not acknowledged or that their feedback wasn’t used to influence decisions made as part of a project or initiative. Closing the loop with clients and stakeholders builds trust and ensures that communication is flowing both ways.
In CTLI, we like to involve those we serve and support in our projects through strong engagement strategies; this approach aligns with our strong emphasis on design thinking. We know that the type of work we do is highly collaborative, and that we build better services, learning experiences, and educational products by involving those who will be affected or influenced by the decisions that are made. We believe that all stakeholder groups deserve to have their voices heard and to have input into projects, initiatives and decisions that affect them. When we close the loop, we hope that individuals can look at our process and see exactly where their input factored in and how it may have influenced decision making. In fact, we’ve sent many of our team members for professional engagement training because we know how valuable it can be. Not only does this enhance relationships with those we work with, it also helps move projects along more smoothly by engaging the right people at the right time.
In this blog series about client engagement, we’ll look at some of the research behind why engagement is so critical to your projects, and explore tools and resources you can use to guide the process in any of your projects or initiatives that involve others—for us, that’s almost all of our projects! We’ll also explore the foundational principles of engagement and acknowledge that engagement really does exist along a spectrum. Sometimes decisions are made without much input, whether this has to do with time or context. This doesn’t mean that no engagement is taking place, it just means that it’s at a different level. For example, this level of engagement may involve informing or communicating with those whom the decision affects why the decision was made quickly—rather than arrived at collaboratively or through more democratic means.
Closing the loop is something that can be done regardless of engagement level. It simply means reporting back what the findings of the engagement were, what the decision makers plan to do about it, and what the next steps will be. A great example of this is asking for input using a survey to gather feedback about an existing process or product. Sharing the results of the survey and how the results influenced (or didn’t influence) changes to the process or product lets your stakeholders know that you heard them. The goal isn’t making each and every person happy, but closing the loop does mean explaining why you made decisions.
One of our favourite tools to close the loop is a “What We Heard” document. It has two distinct sections:
1. What We Heard
This section usually includes your engagement results, such as survey results, interview excerpts, quotes, statistics, narratives, or themes that emerged from the feedback you received. You can present this in many different ways such as graphs, infographics, presentations, charts, or report content. This section may also include case studies or stories from those involved in the engagement.
2. Next Steps
This section lays out what you plan to do about the data that you collected. Was there a strong enough rationale to make a change? Did you decide not to make a change? Why not? What are some of the things that you had to consider as a decision maker that your stakeholders should know about? Often this section will contain recommendations or decisions for moving forward based on the engagement or proposed changes.
Here are some random examples of “What We Heard” documents from various sectors:
- St Johns City Budget 2019-2021
- Public Engagement on a Western Canada Growth Strategy
- Office of Information Technology- OIT
- Shaping Canada’s National Housing Strategy
Closing the loop is especially important when we ask our learners for feedback. Our learners are constantly targeted for many surveys and data collection strategies. They may be asked to provide feedback at the institutional, program, and course levels, and may also be asked for their opinions by services provided within the college or university they attend. We ask for this information because we want to enhance learning experiences and ensure that we are making data-informed decisions. But might we do a better job on closing the loop with our learners?
A report by Shah, Cheng, & Fitzgerald (2016) notes that “The collection, analysis, and reporting of results are systematically carried out in many institutions worldwide. However, how to use student feedback to effectively improve student learning experience remains an issue to be addressed.” In this research, the authors identified a need for PSEs to “genuinely listen to student voice by facilitating a partnership between students and institutions to act on their feedback as part of quality assurance.” One simple way to do this could be involving instructors in creating a short “What I heard” document as part of their course reviews each term, or a service area creating an infographic as part of their yearly service reviews.
Next time you engage stakeholders in providing input into a project,
- ask yourself how you plan to close the loop, and
- make a promise to your stakeholders that you will follow up with them and report back on the results.
People are often more apt to give feedback if they know that it will be used and shared back out. Even if a decision doesn’t go their way, they will appreciate you explaining why.
Centre for Teaching, Learning and Innovation. (2016). Engagement Frameworks and Guides.
City of St. John’s. (2018). What we heard: Budget 2019–2021 [PDF file]. http://www.stjohns.ca/sites/default/files/files/publication/INFO_WWH%20Budget%20Engagement_0.pdf
Conference Board of Canada. Let’s talk housing – What we heard: Shaping Canada’s national housing strategy [PDF file]. Government of Canada. https://www.placetocallhome.ca/-/media/sf/project/placetocallhome/pdfs/nhs-what-we-heard-report-en.pdf
Government of Canada. (2019). What we heard: Public engagement on a Western Canada growth strategy. https://www.wd-deo.gc.ca/eng/19820.asp
IAP2 International Federation. (2014). Planning for effective public participation. International Association for Public Participation. S
Office of Information Technology. (n.d.). We heard you: Changes OIT is making based on your feedback from the 2019 customer satisfaction survey [PDF file]. University of California, Irvine.
Shah, M., Cheng, M., & Fitzgerald, R. (2017). Closing the loop on student feedback: the case of Australian and Scottish universities. Higher Education, 74(1), 115–129. https://10.1007/s10734-016-0032-x