In the past few years, there have been a lot of urgent conversations about the need to center work on communities, commit to equity, and rethink how systems like philanthropy and services are carried out.

However, in some circles these conversations have avoided grappling with a critical concept — power – and all its implications. With this significant omission, we’re often left scratching our heads, wondering how to move beyond rhetoric and operationalize these ideas.

This absence extends to the space I work in – feedback. While many have said that feedback should be used in service of equity, again, what does that really mean? And how does it actually happen? This blog represents an attempt to unpack and describe how feedback can actively shift power and advance equity on multiple levels.

Committing to a feedback model that advances equity

It helps to look at starting points. For instance, what do we mean by equity? And what is its relationship to power?

Gita Gulati-Partee of OpenSource Leadership Strategies and advisor to Fund for Shared Insight describes that equity, by definition:

Sharpens our focus on outcomes and the root structures that produce those outcomes. And the most critical root structure is power, with race being a defining power structure in the U.S. context. Operating with an equity lens requires continuously probing ‘How is power operating — protecting power for some and removing powers for others?’ and strategizing how it must be redistributed, particularly returning power to those from whom it has been extracted.

So how can feedback as a practice shift power?

The key, in my opinion, rests on a couple of things that, at first glance, may seem small, but actually have systemic implications:

  1. The quality of an organization’s feedback practice
  2. How an organization reinforces its feedback practice
A high-quality feedback practice must embed equity at its core

To put it simply, all feedback systems are not created equal.

In fact, there are many feedback systems that operate extractively and encourage only passive client participation, where people don’t feel heard and certainly don’t gain any power. Feelings of alienation can result when clients notice that an organization’s feedback exercises are merely performative, where candid perspectives aren’t genuinely welcomed — and aren’t reviewed or acted on by decision-makers.

Read the full article feedback’s role in shifting power by Valerie Threlfall at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.