If you don’t already know about “positive feedbacks” in biology (release of oxytocin during childbirth) and earth systems (melting ice exposes dark ocean, increasing warming, melting ice…) then go google it.
I’m here to talk about the dangers of collecting non-anonymous feedback from people who are encultured to be polite. And then using that feedback to validate the lazy, unimaginative and – worst of all – ineffective – methods you’ve been using.
An email from someone who helped stage an atrocity –
“The event got quite good feedback from people. So, overall, we are pretty happy with the outcome” but then conceded “You are right we don’t have the empirical evidence to know how many people liked or disliked the event, so neither you nor I can make any evidence-based statements.” [Except I can, because I asked myself – and other people who left early – about it…]
My email to someone else who’d staged another atrocity.
The dangers of feedback
People will have, with the exception of me, have said very positive things to you, both face-to-face and on the feedback forms.
There are good reasons for this
- the event was very well-organised. Booking, sign up and pre-info were well-organised, and it mostly ran to time.
- the presentations were by-and-large well-presented and useful
- people will have either met some new people or caught up with people they don’t see very often, or at least “put a face to a name”
There are not-so-good reasons
- the forms weren’t anonymous (though you can always leave your name off)
- the forms didn’t encourage people to be (constructively) critical
- people got a free feed (and the food was good)
- people tend to be polite (not me, clearly)
And there is an “invisible” reason
– people are mostly so used to this format – of being sat in rows and talked at – that they don’t imagine or expect anything better. They don’t expect that their skills will be valorised (several speakers did, it’s true) and that their needs will be met during a conference like this. They expect to be “talked at”. And so they judge it on those terms.
Please note, I am NOT disputing that the feedback you got is sincere. I am disputing that it is very useful to you. In fact it will be actively harmful if it is used as a shield to dismiss what I have said; “everyone else liked it” (thus leading on to “well, you’ve got a particular agenda” or “well, you are only happy if you are unhappy”… That’s happened before, and will happen again. So it goes.
And his reply
Thanks very much for your feedback – you are right – much of our feedback is glowing – so it is great to have some constructive comments. Thank you very much for your views – they are objective, informative and will be very useful.
Verily, we are fucked.