6. Feedback, complaints and response mechanisms
CRITICAL: Sensitive Issues
Handling and investigations of sensitive complaints (e.g. fraud, corruption, abusive behavior, sexual exploitation or child abuse) require individuals with specific expertise and must be managed according to the specific procedures and standards defined by the CARE Member responsible for managing the office and programmes. They should be escalated to the designated manager or committee which has the authority to investigate. Separation of Duties and full confidentiality need to be observed at all steps of the process. The protection of whistleblowers, complainants and other people affected must have the highest priority.
Most staff will have experiences of meeting people who are not fully happy with the work or behaviour of CARE or partners in their community or region. Most of this feedback or complaint is received informally e.g. people approach staff who are visiting the community, or visit CARE’s office in search of assistance or resolution to their problems or grievances. It is also not unusual for staff of one agency to receive a complaint about another agency. Receiving feedback, suggestions and complaints about our work is normal, important and should be welcomed.
Whilst there are occasions where complaints are handled well by field staff, there are many examples when they are not. At times, staff, already overwhelmed with day to day emergency activities, may find it difficult to manage the informal feedback and complaint they receive, might not prioritise complaints, or might forget or lose complaints. Tensions can also arise when a complaint is received about a member of staff and it is not clear how this complaint will be dealt with and by whom.
To improve this, CARE offices should put in place a more formalised system of soliciting, receiving, processing and responding to the feedback and complaints we receive. These systems should aim to provide a safe, non-threatening and easily accessible mechanism that enables even the most powerless to make a suggestion or complaint. On the part of CARE, this requires us to address and respond to all feedback and complaints, and to be timely and transparent in our decisions and actions.
6.1 What is a Feedback and Complaints Mechanism?
A feedback and complaint mechanism (FCM) is a set of procedures and tools formally established (ideally across programs and linked to other monitoring processes) which:
- solicits and listens to, collates and analyzes feedback and complaints from members of the community where CARE works about their experience of an intervention provided by CARE and its partners;
- solicits and listens to, collates and analyzes feedback and complaints from partners about their experience of working with CARE;
- triggers action, influences decision-making at the appropriate level in the organization and/or prompts a referral to other relevant stakeholders if necessary and appropriate;
- provides a response back to the feedback or complaint provider and if appropriate, the wider community.
In some contexts, particularly in humanitarian responses or when working in consortia, an inter-agency or joint mechanism may exist. It is always preferable for CARE and partners to utilize joint mechanisms where they exist rather than setting up a separate FCM. CARE must ensure that joint mechanisms meet CARE’s minimum standards which may require following-up with the lead agency (if not CARE) and may necessitate that the minimum standards are included in agreements with other agencies.
6.2 Key Definitions
Feedback is a positive or negative statement, a concern or a suggestion on a non-sensitive issue about an intervention provided by CARE or its partners or the behavior of CARE or partner staff.
A complaint is a specific grievance from anyone who has been negatively affected by an organisation’s action or who believes that an organisation has failed to meet a stated commitment. Complaints can be about either non-sensitive issues (such as dissatisfaction with activities) or sensitive issues (such as fraud, corruption, abusive behavior or sexual exploitation).
Feedback and complaints can be shared by any member of the communities where we work, such as project participants, other crisis-affected populations, local traditional or administrative authorities, suppliers and even CARE and partner staff. Crucially, all community members should be able to access the FCM, regardless of age, gender and ability, including the most marginalized, and the FCM should be designed and managed in a way that does not cause harm.
6.3 Why do we need Feedback and Complaints Mechanisms?
If operated effectively, a feedback and complaint mechanism supports CARE and its partners to meet the organization’s goals, values and commitments by ensuring that:
- Initial steps are taken towards redressing power imbalances and we are accountable to those we work with and for – by providing opportunities for participants (of all ages, genders and abilities) and partners to participate in and influence decision-making.
- Our interventions are relevant and appropriate to participants’ needs and aspirations – by identifying changing needs and inappropriate activities and taking appropriate action.
- Our interventions are implemented in a way which respects communities and protects their well-being and safety – by identifying activities or behavior which are causing harm and taking appropriate action.
- The integrity of our interventions is upheld –– by identifying situations in which assistance is being diverted for personal or political gain and taking appropriate action.
- Gender equality and women’s voice are supported – by identifying what is working and not working for women, men, boys and girls and providing opportunities for marginalized community members to voice their opinions and feed into decision-making.
- Trust with community members is built and maintained – facilitating implementation and creating a solid relationship with the community upon which to intervene at a deeper level in the future.
- Actual and potential cases of sexual harassment, exploitation abuse are identified and addressed – acting as an early warning system and allowing us to respond and prevent further sexual misconduct or other sensitive issues
6.4 How to set up and operate a Feedback and Complaints Mechanism?
Experience shows that feedback and complaints mechanisms can have enormous benefits for both communities and for CARE staff. On the other hand, setting up a mechanism that does not function well (for example if complaints are not followed up) may contribute to frustration and worsening relationships with communities and local stakeholders thus can potentially be harmful.
CARE divides the process of setting up and operating a feedback and complaint mechanism (FCM) into three main stages with specific steps in each stage:
PLAN ACT IMPROVE
Step 1: COMMIT Step 4: DESIGN Step 7: RESPOND
Step 2: UNDERSTAND Step 5: PROCESS Step 8: ADAPT
Step 3: CONSULT Step 6: MAKE SENSE Step 9: LEARN
These steps do not represent a linear progression but instead each step reinforces the others in a circular fashion. Frequently these steps will be conducted in parallel or previous steps will be revisited with the new understanding gained from the other steps.
See full FCM Guidance for further details about each of those steps.
6.5 Roles & responsibilities
For each stage and related steps defined in the minimum operating standards, specific roles and responsibilities need to be clearly assigned. Roles and responsibilities should be assigned to appropriate staff members working in the following types of functions:
- Senior Management are ultimately accountable for the establishment and performance of the FCM, as well as ensuring organisational commitment and encouraging a culture supportive of accountability.
- The Program Director should be a champion of accountability and hold the Program Team to account for effectively operating the FCM and using data in decision-making. This person is responsible for the inclusiveness and effectiveness of the FCM with a focus on learning and improvement.
- Program Team / Project Managers provide programmatic-level support to the implementation and operation of the FCM. They should create a demand for feedback and complaints data and use that data in decision-making.
- The MEAL Manager in the country office (or whoever leads on MEAL) has oversight of the running of the FCM across all areas on a day-to-day basis, including coordinating with field office and partner staff to ensure consistent understanding, to build capacity and provide tools and guidance. This person takes a lead on quality control and data analysis.
- MEAL/Accountability staff at the field office (which could include Officers or Community Engagement staff) are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the various channels, including directly receiving and processing feedback and complaints.
Sensitive complaints such as sexual exploitation and abuse should be escalated to the designated manager for appropriate handling and response.
When working with partners, CARE’s role should cover the following:
- Ensuring partners have a clear understanding of CARE’s expectations and minimum standards;
- Providing technical support, capacity building, resources and tools as required (e.g. training on PSHEA);
- Providing quality control during field monitoring visits;
- Regularly reviewing analysis of feedback and complaints data and supporting partners to use this for decision-making;
- Regularly participating in reviewing the effectiveness of the FCM and contributing to efforts around learning and improvement.