People have framed the conversation about measurement in the social sector in terms of monitoring and evaluation for decades. They shorthand it as “M and E” and serve it up as a generic, two-dimensional description for measuring nonprofit performance. Monitoring is the routine data collection and analysis conducted by an organization about its own activities, while evaluation typically means the kind of data collection and analysis conducted by an independent third party.

But, for all their advancement, these two building blocks are insufficient. We need a third leg of the nonprofit measurement stool to achieve more balance: feedback. Distinctly focused on the customer or constituent experience, feedback involves systematically soliciting, listening to, and responding to the experiences of nonprofit (or government direct-service-provider) participants and customers about their perceptions of a service or product.

By listening to customers’ experiences, preferences, and ideas, we can gain unique insights that will help improve the quality and effectiveness of social programs.

Certain organizations are already leading the way in using feedback. Examples of these three advantages underscore how adopting feedback into the measurement process can benefit both the programs and their respective clients.

  • Sourcing innovation: Some organizations implement all three legs of the stool, such as Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP), a model evidence-based program that recently used feedback to question its assumptions about what its clients actually wanted.
  • Surfacing hidden problems:  From its first feedback efforts in 10 locations, Second Harvest Food Bank learned that customers from different cultural communities were having vastly different experiences with food and service at the food banks—white and Latino clients were markedly more satisfied than Asian clients.
  • Giving voice to those who are least heard: Through its first efforts at customer feedback, ECHOS learned that clients were waiting excessive amounts of time, which consequently made ECHOS’ support difficult to access.

Read the full article on feedback by Fay Twersky at the Stanford Social Innovation Review.