Innovation in Chunks: Our first Community Feedback Session


In April, 2011 GlobalGiving and the Kenyan NGO council organized meetings with over 200 local organizations in Kakamega, Busia, Vihiga, and Bungoma. Today we met with nearly 100 organizations in Kakamega to share lessons from 2448 stories collected in their city. We’re trying to learn the best way to complete feedback loops, so that local organizations do something with the information we are collecting about their communities.

The community feedback session

These sessions are the focus for the next phase of our Storytelling project. After 45 minutes of introductions, speeches, and announcements (NGO council is a typical bureaucratic network), we got started on data dissemination.

I started with NGO mapping, because in the last 6 months another international organization had conducted a “NGO mapping” exercise and managed to get 35 local organizations to submit information about who they were and where they worked (incidentally the same type of stuff we ask in our Due Diligence (see checklist) but without the possibility of getting funding). Some NGOs had complained that they were excluded from the mapping.

Here are several ways we’ve mapped local organizations:

First – asking NGOs who they say they work with, and combining answers

This map (in two parts) was compiled from nearly 100 NGO self-reports of who they work with in Kakamega back in April:

“What do you think about these maps? What have you done with this information?” I asked.


  • I’m not on the map.
  • Most of us are not on the map.
  • I want to see where these organizations work on a geo map.
  • I want to know what other organizations are doing, so I can work with them.

It’s surprising that the same network of NGOs asked about itself 6 months apart can change so much. It was true that none of the NGOs that appeared in the center of these maps were present, or relevant to this group. But that’s the reality. It’s not the map’s fault – it is the nature of a NGO network that players are changing faster than the data we use to support their efforts.

Note that only USAID, EUROPEAN UNION, and RED CROSS appear on this map from among all the international NGOs. These local organizations are largely ignored.

I asked the Geo-map oriented person what specific action a geo-map would enable him to do. He didn’t have an answer.

Reply to “who’s doing what?”: I pointed out that if you see an organization and know it works with AIDS, like NACC, then you can infer that connected organizations have a similar mission. This can guide you in the specific action of  reaching out to them to work together on projects.

Story-derived community maps

I next presented the community NGO map for Kakamega, which we generated from connections among scribes collecting all of our 2448 stories:

And the filtered version (organizations with multiple connections):

Quickly the network seems to reduce down to a very small number of organizations. The filter criteria is that at least two scribes collected stories about an organization. So either we are working with too few scribes for the 2449 stories, or organizations are not coordinating much (because storytellers in one place don’t talk about the same organizations as storytellers in some other place).

I asked for comments, and pointed out that at the center of this map is equity bank. “Equity bank is not even an NGO!” I said, “and yet they are being mentioned in 107 stories.” I pulled up the story search engine and showed results for equity bank:

This changed the discussion. Previously several people had noted equity bank and assumed people were talking about microloans and banking. But a quick scan of story titles revealed the school fees was the most common reason for equity bank playing a community role.

School fees

We ended up having a lengthy discussion about the problem of school fees. This remains one of the most common phrases across all stories in Kenya. The Kenyan government promises free universal education and yet nobody appears to be getting it. It is a quintessentially complex topic, because of the horde of actors and possible interventions:

  • The government should be doing this but they aren’t.
  • The Kenyan government promises 1200 ksh ($12) a semester to cover every student’s needs.
  • “Yes but is that enough money? We should find out how much it really costs to pay for uniforms, books, lunch, and other fees.”
  • “Education is close to my heart. My organization has started social auditing of local schools to find out how much of the government-allocated money has been given to students.”
  • “We need training in social auditing too. We must build our capacity!”

At the mention of training and capacity building, I interjected: “What specific action do you actually want to do? Training and capacity are a means to an end, and that end is what remains unclear.”

  • Another said: “Corrupt government officials are the problem. We the civil society should be speaking for the community, and yet when we know this happens, we remain silent.” So another solution could be advocacy.
  • But we non-governmental organizations. Our role is not to work within the government.

I pointed out that the storytelling project allows NGOs to advocate using anonymous feedback so that no one can retaliate against them to pointing out what many people in the community are saying.

  • Specific actions: One woman stood and mentioned that 12 years ago she moved to Kakamega from the Carribean and started a school. For the last 3 years her school has been #2 in the country, and nobody has supported her in any way. Where is the government? Where are NGO partners? Nowhere.

I applauded her effort for proving with actions that the problem can be solved, and also highlighting the need for more local support. No one had ever visited her school in this room!

  • “The problem is money! We need more fundraising capacity.”

“Great! come back at 2pm and we’ll do a whole workshop on online and local fundraising.”

  • “When there is a government meeting on important subject, where are we? We need more information about what is happening.”

“Great! We have an SMS-feedback system that you can use. You already have ten working groups to address HIV, the environment, education, etc., so you can use SMS to inform the group and work together day-to-day. I will train your local coordinator to manage the system.”

Sadly, we ran out of time to get into much more detail. And while the subject of school fees was not why people came, it was one of the 3 topics that best illustrated the complexity in the problem and the diversity in approaches to solving it:


  • Fundraising
  • More local coordination (SMS news groups for NGOs)
  • Social Auditing (follow the money flowing from government and CDF)
  • Advocacy
  • Networking
  • Programmatic change

I added that last specific action, though no NGO thought of it as I had hoped. The reality is that these NGOs are willing to do most anything except fulfill what our vision of their core role in the community ought to be: design and implement programs that address the unmet needs directly. Other than the woman who moved here and started a great school 12 years ago, there did not seem to be a lot of talk about what commitments NGOs have to doing something that fills the gaping holes left by incomplete and mis-targetted government interventions.

The overall picture

Who is saying what about whom in Kakamega (from the who-what-where visualizer):

Or alternatively, the interconnected word-phases map for Kakamega looks like this:

Words and phrases in all Kakamega stories - Click to enlarge

And the Kakamega story wordle looks like this:

Larger aid world context

Today this was the hot story on the “interwebs”:

I share this because this GlobalGiving Storytelling Project was named as one of two examples of this happening:

Aid and development bloggers and NGO’s staff members know if their projects are or aren’t working… Some creative examples of this [honest approach] have already happened, such as Villages in Action, where residents of a Ugandan village gave their input about the MDGs (and guess what, none of them had even heard of it); or Global Giving’s Storyteller project, which collects stories from community members and analyzes them.

So I pose this question – does the above dialogue from our community feedback session seem to fit with the narrative?


None of the players in this meeting wants development aid to end. You can argue that they should want it to end, because of the culture of dependency it creates, but I’m afraid they are asking for something else: to be more involved. In fact, they’ve really never been involved.

In my usual survey of who is actually getting connected to funding, 93 out of 93 organizations have been writing proposals, 13 of them got funding through a proposal once, and only 2 our of 93 received funding for at least 3 consecutive years from the same funding source. Everywhere I go, the 95-15-3 percent rule describes the local community network of NGOs (95% writing, 15% getting, and 3% “married” to funding).

The reason “Villages in Action” reveals nobody ever heard of the MDGs and their impacts is because they were never involved.

How do we ensure that doesn’t happen next time?

  1. Storytelling
  2. Community (NGO) feedback sessions
  3. Direct feedback through SMS

On number 3, we just got our SMS feedback tools running and started messaging storytellers this week. We (1) let local NGOs know they can send announcements about meetings and events to this system for dissemination and (2) invited hundreds of storytellers in Nairobi to plant a tree. NGO partner Sadili Oval had 8000 seedlings they wanted to give away and needed a way to reach out to the community. Viola! More trees planted, fewer trees killed (for paper), and a tree of knowledge finally spreading back to those who have been ignored for too long by the system.

Next up: thanking each of our 6000+ storytellers, sending them stories via SMS, and giving scribes personalized feedback on their performance.

6 thoughts on “Innovation in Chunks: Our first Community Feedback Session

  1. UMICEF NGO is doing a lot in community holistic development programmes in Western and North Rift region of Kenya. The NGO works in partnership with Universal Fellowship Organization and Global Education Fund Africa. This partnership has helped 20 Secondary Schools orphans in school fees payment and 40 Primary schools orphans in the provision of school uniform. I have posted what we do on many social networks requesting for support which I am still hopeful will come. Kindly support our cause.

  2. Really interesting process Marc, well done. I’m keeping this post in mind as development proceeds on the “Organizational Directory”, meant to make visible the work, mission, location, connections local organizations are doing. Having a good online platform is only a portion of the process, it’s also going to take engagement and deep thought on the hoped for outcomes from becoming more visible.

  3. I’ve done 2 more of these since then and have been meaning to post an update. Unfortunately the GlobalGiving Open Challenge (background checks on 700 NGOs in 2 weeks for the staff…. aaaagh!) and National Novel Writing Month ( have gotten in the way. Stay tuned.

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