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Site Visits: The Feedback You’ve Never Heard

Four leaders from African organizations sat down to give us their frank feedback about site visits from funders a few years ago. I recently ran across my notes from the discussion, and because they offered such good reminders, I am sharing them here. Organization founders from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Lesotho offer the following important, though too-often-unheard insights from a local group’s perspective.

(Pssst, pay attention, donors and aid workers. This is what your partners would tell you if they were given the opportunity to share their “real” feedback.)

What works?

  • Plan the visit in consultation with the host organization (objectives, itinerary, and logistics).
  • Devise a site visit plan that links to program aims and objectives.
  • “We have to teach” about context, i.e. educate donors about country or rural context.
  • Can you spot me in the blue shirt? This was actually taken at one of my most difficult site visits. The “garden” we were walking towards had clearly just been “planted” for our benefit. Couldn’t fool this farm girl. This group leader’s feedback would have been, “Don’t see through my overt manipulation of community leaders for my own benefit.”

    Review and adhere to the site visit plan. Ensure timing is controlled by a realistic and mutually-convenient agenda.

  • When a host organization’s director does not always accompany the donor, i.e. let other staff, beneficiaries and stakeholders speak. They must feel comfortable to share their challenges/failures, too.
  • Schedule time for an end of visit debrief in which open dialogue can occur about what the donor observed during the visit and a summary of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Foster listening through mutual openness. Use relaxed tones of speech.
  • “Not quite policing” - Aim for genuine, transparent, shared learning. “It’s about learning.” “We put everything on the table.”
  • Bring in technical inputs (e.g. publications, materials, network links and support, etc).
  • Leave funds within the grantee and/or community for any expenses incurred to host the donor, e.g. meals, fuel.
  • Provide a brief follow-up report, including any issues of concern or rationale for shifts in original plans. Ensure frequent, regular checks on progress toward any expected action items.

What’s challenging?

  • Top down approach – arrogance and judgment. Rude and offensive behavior.
  • Demands of donor organizations focused on quantitative indicators, neglecting “faces & processes of change”
  • Donors “using” visits for their own fundraising based on grantees’ work.
  • Overemphasis on “dark” side of Africa.
  • Misrepresentation to the community, i.e. raising expectations (“You can get x from the office.”)
  • “Disbursement agent” approach to grantee relationship (overemphasis on accountability and fixed-line budgets).
  • Donors getting too involved – too many visits.
  • Frequent re-scheduling of planned visits.
  • Lack of follow through in communicating about issues.
  • TIME – There is a need to allocate sufficient time, because people are always in a hurry.

Overall Recommendations for Donors:

  • Clarify expectations and priorities for the site visit from the start.
  • Spend at least one day (preferably, one and a ½ days).
  • Learn from each other and work together.
  • You [the visitor] have to eat. You have to be able to listen to our stories.”
  • Recognize the difference between a “visitor” (one who comes in and out) vs. a “supporter” someone who helps you to grow and develop over time.
  • Offer feedback, feedback, feedback based on what you observed and experienced!

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This post originally appeared at: http://www.how-matters.org/2012/05/22/site-visits-feedback-youve-never-heard/

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