The Black Lives Matter movement and national voices like Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative have placed a spotlight on the grim shortcomings of our criminal justice system—calling for it to improve the lives entrusted to it.

Downstream organizations like ours, the Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), are also looking for ways to improve, as we work to help those released from incarceration to rekindle their lives and livelihoods. This requires a deep commitment to translating our good intentions into verifiable results.

Recently, that commitment has entailed expanding our data collection from purely gathering data about our participants to also gathering data from them. The effect has been striking. We now regularly ask participants for feedback, use their feedback to improve our services, and dignify suggestions by letting those surveyed know how their input has influenced our programs.

In the process, we’ve learned of ways to enhance our services to better meet the needs of our participants and share decision making. We’ve also discovered a few tools and tactics for listening that we hope other nonprofits—and particularly our peers working in criminal justice—can learn from.

Historically, our performance monitoring and program evaluation data has been gathered about people, not from them. Since people are the true experts on their lives, it’s important to treat them that way.

Our ability to expand our data-gathering to include surveying participants came with help from three sources. First, in 2013 we encountered David Bonbright, CEO at Keystone Accountability, who for a couple of decades has been calling attention to “constituent voice,” as he calls input from program participants. Bonbright transformed our thinking about the purpose of gathering constituent feedback to one of seeking to improve customer service while empowering participants by increasing their influence on programs and policies.

Read the full article about building organizational muscle to gather feedback by Brad Dudding & Chris Watler at Stanford Social Innovation Review