Building Organizational Muscle and Mindset to Gather Participant Feedback

Stanford Social Innovation Review

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.