Accountability and Feedback Loops

CDA helps policy makers, practitioners, and organizations improve the quality, effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian, development and peacebuilding programs through better tools for joint analysis, participatory program design, feedback loops, listening and accountability mechanisms. CDA’s work on aid effectiveness, accountability and feedback loops began in 2005 with the launch of the Listening Project. The Listening Project facilitated 20 listening exercises around the world, listening to 6,000+ people on the receiving end of international aid between 2005-2009. CDA’s listening methodology featured open-ended conversations with people in recipient communities about their experiences with and analysis of the cumulative impacts of international aid efforts in their communities. This unique collaborative listening and learning effort engaged 130 international and local aid agencies and over 400 staff and volunteers, culminating in the publication of the book Time to Listen: Hearing People on the Receiving End of International Aid (2012).

Lessons from the Listening Project and our Humanitarian Effectiveness research were integrated into policy discussions at several key aid effectiveness processes:

  • Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (Busan, November 2011)
  • UN OCHA Policy Forums (2014, 2015)
  • World Humanitarian Summit (Istanbul, May 2016)

CDA continues applied research on effective feedback loops with a keen interest in feedback utilization in program adaptation. Our newest collaborative learning project focuses on successful and responsible INGO exits in support of locally-led development and peacebuilding. A core commitment in this research is to engage local civil society organizations, researchers and evaluators in the Global South to help us examine what a responsible and successful exit looks like to different stakeholders. CDA is a member of InterAction, ALNAP, Feedback Labs, American Evaluation Association, European Evaluation Society, Alliance for Peacebuilding and Bond Beneficiary Feedback Learning Group.

A Selection of Publications

Featured Projects

Selection of Recent Collaborative Learning and Applied Research Engagements

Learning Partners





Search for Common Ground Peacebuilding Evaluation Consortium A case study on peacebuilding feedback loops in Burundi. Burundi 2017
International Rescue Committee (IRC) State Department Developed and led an action research component for IRC’s research into feedback utilization. Uganda 2016-2017
BOND BOND Members; DFID Co-chaired DFID Program Partnership Learning Group (later Bond) on Beneficiary Feedback; facilitated learning; produced lessons summaries. UK, Global 2015-2016
World Vision UK DFID Inclusive Societies Department Documented promising practices in accountability and feedback loops in World Vision’s programs. Ethiopia, Pakistan, and Nepal 2015-2016
Catholic Relief Services Feedback Labs Research and development on improving feedback utilization in cacao farming project. Haiti 2015-2016
World Vision UK DFID Served on the Steering Group for DFID-funded Beneficiary Feedback Mechanism Pilots, implemented by World Vision UK in 6 countries. Global 2015-2016
Disaster Ready ALNAP Co-developed an e-learning course on effective feedback in humanitarian contexts. Global 2015
Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) Alliance Wrote a chapter for 2015 Humanitarian Accountability Report. Provided input into the CHS Standard. Global 2015
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Desk research and field visits on humanitarian effectiveness. Contributed to OCHA’s final report presented at the World Humanitarian Summit. Myanmar, Ethiopia, Haiti, the Philippines and Congo DRC 2014-2015
ITAD; Development Initiatives DFID A research and evaluation consortium to evaluate DFID-commissioned beneficiary feedback pilots. Ethiopia, Tanzania, Pakistan, India, Somaliand 2013-2014
ALNAP German Ministry of Foreign Affairs; DFID Conducted field research on effective feedback mechanisms. Produced guidance on designing and implementing humanitarian feedback mechanisms. Sudan, Pakistan, Haiti, Global 2012-2014

“CDA are, pretty much, the world experts in how feedback loops can work and the benefits to be gained in terms of programme quality”

Yo Winder

Partnerships and Accountability Advisor, Oxfam GB

Selection of Recent Advisory Service Engagements

Clients / Partners




International Rescue Committee Developed a client-responsiveness framework to guide program / project design, implementation and evaluation. Global 2016
GOAL Ukraine Provided training and technical assistance on conflict sensitivity and humanitarian feedback mechanisms. Ukraine 2016
World Vision UK Served as a learning partner for DFID-funded beneficiary feedback pilots in 6 countries. Facilitated learning events and contributed to practice notes. Africa, UK 2015-2016
Norwegian Refugee Council Developed agency-wide minimum standards and guidelines on establishing feedback and complaints mechanisms. Global 2015
The World Humanitarian Summit Produced a mapping of community engagement initiatives, a strategy and guidance to engage people in crisis-affected communities in the lead up to and at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. Global 2015
Global Public Policy Institute Peer reviewed research on monitoring and feedback in restricted contexts Global 2015
ALNAP Wrote the background paper and the final report for ALNAP 2014 annual meeting on engaging crisis-affected people in humanitarian response. Global 2014
DFID Responded to DFID Help Desk request on Beneficiary Feedback in Fragile and Conflict Affected States. Global 2013
Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Provided input into the IASC Taskforce on Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) Operational Framework. Global 2012-Ongoing
Oxfam International Facilitated a listening exercise in Tamil Nadu with former Oxfam partner and recipient communities; produced a report. India 2012
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Desk research and report on feedback mechanisms in international assistance organizations. Global 2011

Ask the Experts

CDA provides services to donors and international aid agencies, both at headquarters and at the country level.  Ask us how we can customize our resources and expertise to help you improve your community engagement, feedback loops and accountability practices.
Isabella Jean, Director of Collaborative Learning and Evaluation [email]

Sarah Cechvala, Senior Program Manager [email]


Thought Leaders in Learning Speaker Series: Time to Listen / CDA presented its research which aggregated the input of nearly 6,000 people in 20 aid receiving countries, as well as the reflections of aid workers themselves, on the effectiveness of international aid efforts as captured through CDA’s Listening Project at the USAID Learning Lab‘s Thought Leaders in Learning Speaking Seminar.

Beneficiary Feedback Mechanism Learning Event / April 2016. This shared learning event on Beneficiary Feedback Mechanisms was hosted by World Vision UK. With funding from UK Aid, World Vision supported 7 organisations in 6 countries to pilot Beneficiary Feedback Mechanisms in their maternal and child health programs. This event drew on experiences of the pilots and wider experiences of beneficiary feedback mechanisms within the NGO community, and provided participants an opportunity to contribute to BFM practice and guidance notes. Isabella Jean led several discussions at the event and co-authored CDA’s Lessons from the Beneficiary Feedback Pilot in Pakistan report.
Is International Humanitarian Aid Broken? / December 2014. An online discussion with international humanitarian aid professionals and students.

Frontiers for Development Cooperation / August 2014. Keynote speech by Prof. Robert Chambers at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) 2014 Development Cooperation Forum.

Adaptive and Accountable Response: Use of Technology and Feedback Loops / December 2014. Isabella Jean presented on this panel at the Canadian Humanitarian Conference, hosted by the Aga Khan Foundation in Ottawa, Canada.

Are We Asking the Right Questions? / 2013. CDA discussed engaging local communities in collecting, analyzing and using evidence for needs assessment and impact evaluation. The talk was part of ALNAP’s “Local Knowledge and Evidence of Impact Meeting.”

Exemplary Evaluations in a Multicultural World / 2015. Isabella Jean sat on the following panels at the 2015 AEA Conference: Accountability to Beneficiaries in Humanitarian Work: (1) Citizens in the Driver’s a Seat: Shifting Power in Evaluation, and (2) Listening Skills for Design, Monitoring and Evaluation.
Shifting Language and Practice Towards a More Democratic Evaluation / October 2014. Isabella Jean presented on the panel “Visionary Evaluation for a Sustainable, Equitable Future.” at the American Evaluation Association (AEA) 2014 Conference in Denver, CO.

Local Communities Say Aid is ‘Too Much, Too Fast’ / 2013. Mary B. Anderson, founder of CDA Collaborative Learning Projects and author of ‘Do No Harm’ and ‘Time to Listen’ speaks frankly about what aid recipients and local communities told her about humanitarian aid and asks “whose evidence counts?”

Mechanisms and Motivations: Engaging Communities in Feedback Processes / June 2014. A workshop presenting evidence-informed guidance on establishing and implementing effective feedback mechanisms in humanitarian/relief programs. Part of the 2014 InterAction Forum, Washington D.C.
“Time to Listen” Presentation and Panel Discussion / November 2014. Isabella Jean, spoke on the findings reported in Time to Listen and deliberated the question; “Is international assistance – as it is now conceived and delivered – working as we intend it to?” as well as how the answer impacts The Heller School for Social Policy and Management students as they advance in their careers. This presentation and panel discussion was the launch of Heller’s COEX Wednesday Series, at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.
Effective Feedback Loops Webinar / January 2015. Isabella Jean facilitated this session about how humanitarian agencies can gather and utilize feedback from disaster-affected communities.

Seven-Minute Expert Talk on Humanitarian Affairs / 2014. Interview with Mary B. Anderson, CDA’s founder, author of “Do No Harm,” and co-author of “Time to Listen.” What beneficiaries really think of international aid; The “proceduralisation” of the aid system; The drawbacks of funding mechanisms and the responsibility of donors; Some proposals to disentangle the threads; and the role of quality and accountability initiatives. Part of The Sphere Project “Seven-minute Expert Talks on Humanitarian Affairs” series.

Thursday Talk, Closing the Loop: On-Going Research into Effective Feedback Practices / November 2014. Isabella Jean discussed her research into effective feedback practices. Including guidance on how to integrate listening and feedback mechanisms into existing organizational systems and how to use the feedback to steer program adaptation and implementation; and, evidence and guidance on lessons and practices around feedback for program and context monitoring in fragile and conflict affected states. Hosted by DM&E for Peace.

‘Rhetoric or Reality? Putting Affected People at the Centre of Humanitarian Action’ / October 2014. A publication launch and discussion of findings at Overseas Development Institute (ODI) London, UK.


Accountability and Feedback Practices / February 2014. CDA worked with colleagues from DFID and Save the Children UK to provide training and guidance on accountability and feedback practices to local and international NGO partners of DFID in Myanmar on behalf of DFID’s PPA Empowerment and Accountability Learning Group.
What Can we Learn from Organizations’ Experiences with Feedback Mechanisms? / March 2015. Isabella Jean presented at InterAction’s event “Promoting Local Ownership in Evaluation”.
Accountability to Affected Persons: Feedback in Humanitarian Contexts / October 2015. Isabella presented at the FeedbackLabs 2015 Summit, hosted by OpenGov Hub at Washington, DC.
Shaping Civil Society Engagement for the Future: Effective Relationships and Engagement / 2015. Isabella Jean was a panelist on this Twitter chat. This chat was the last of a five part series co-hosted by BOND and DFID as part of DFID’s Civil Society Partnership Review. #DFIDCSPR.