Creating an open feedback platform to bring about greater accountability to populations affected by humanitarian and development activities
One of the biggest failings of the humanitarian system is that agencies do not pay enough attention to what people caught up in crises say they want.
Sir Mark Lowcock, Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, 2021
Loop is a platform that amplifies the voices of people experiencing crises by connecting them with the organisations behind the services being provided in their communities. It encourages these organisations to respond to feedback – and change things on-the-ground. Loop, as an organisation, is focussed on shifting the power dynamics within the humanitarian sector, by ensuring that organisations rely on the consent and approval of the communities in which they are working, for continued funding and support. In this way, Loop helps organisations become more responsive to the needs of people.
Having spent over two years framing, researching, and understanding problems associated with humanitarian accountability through the Relief Watch project and other projects in collaboration with Humanity United, and the Overseas Development Institute, Sonder joined forces with TalkToLoop.org to design, develop and launch a global platform for humanitarian feedback and accountability.
Sonder assembled a team of expert collaborators in the fields of service design, product design, and software development, spread across continents, to develop the following core features of the TalkToLoop.org platform:
- SMS & Voice: Ensuring that Loop is accessible to people without an internet connection via text messaging and simple telephone calls that connect to the web platform.
- Translation: Creating a multilingual platform that allows anybody to share, read, and respond to feedback from anywhere in the world, in a language they understand.
- Sensitive complaints: Designing a feedback mechanism that can safely receive and refer on sensitive complaints that would do harm if they were posted on the open Loop platform.
The teams worked in an agile development process to design and implement these features onto the new platform with increasing levels of fidelity. This meant an on-going process of two-week design sprints, followed by a week of usability testing spread over 12 months. Ultimately, this process served to de-risk such a big undertaking. After the third month, machine translation, and SMS functionality had been implemented onto the platform. From this point on, greater fidelity and nuance to these features could be added by testing smaller parts of the platform with different communities in Zambia, and The Philippines on an ongoing basis.
As a charity, focussed on improving the accountability of organisations towards people affected by crises, Loop is led by – and accountable to – its Governing Board of professionals who have lived experience, come from, and understand, the needs of vulnerable and marginalised communities. This governance ensures a strong emphasis on recipients of aid as the primary user of the Loop platform.
Designing inclusive services in low-resource settings
The Zambian design team became familiar faces at community centres that are providing support to vulnerable groups around Lusaka and further afield in Zambia. There, people were invited to test out the process for sharing a sensitive complaint or issue using Loop. The team collaborated closely with a legal support network, and a support group for trans and non-binary people, to create 'Loop Safe Mode'. This process reassures people of how sensitive issues are handled by the platform. It was vital for the design team to use wording and UX patterns that built trust with people, and made them feel comfortable and safe sharing details of a traumatic incident with Loop. This feeling of trust is underpinned by the development team’s rigorous attention to data security, in the architecture of Loop’s technical infrastructure.
Designing for low-resource settings meant making design considerations for users who may have intermittent access to a 2G connection, at-best. It's important that the platform loads quickly and performs well on old Android smartphones, without consuming all of the data in people's monthly packet. Loop consumes less than 250kb of data when loaded on smartphones. In Zambia, people can text 4343 for free, to provide their feedback over SMS.
The team is currently prototyping automated voice input channels (IVR) with Somali and Mai speakers in Somalia.
I have really enjoyed working with Sonder Collective. A large network of skilled professional designers who pull in each other's strengths and skill sets to deliver timely, high quality work in a very inclusive, user driven approach. Ciarán is a committed professional with a keen eye for design and high standards of delivery. Together we are building a global feedback mechanism that will bring about a new Accountability Paradigm in the Humanitarian and Development sectors.
Alex Ross, Managing Director, TalkToLoop.org
This community in particular has very few places to report cases, because we are heavily discriminated against, even by people who are supposedly there to offer help. We share our experiences with each other here at the centre and in our closed groups. This sometimes doesn’t immediately attach us to someone that can help. It also sometimes doesn’t lead to people responsible for abuse or trauma being held accountable. I would prefer that as I am using this platform, there is some sort of mood check, or contact detail at the end for us to see / talk to a counsellor as some of these experiences are traumatic – and re-sharing them is almost like reliving the experience. We would also need strong reassurance that what we share will be anonymous.
Community member, trans & intersex support centre, Zambia, 2021