Keystone is a leader in the field of constituent voice. That's "fancy talk" for "What the customer has to say." They've been working with NGOs and NPOs for years to help the organizations listen to the people they serve. Now they're teaming up with Charity Navigator to put this information in front of potential donors.
This is critical. It matters if you are running an organization and it matters if you don't. It matters if you are looking to donate to an organization and it matters if you "just want to get something done." Technology is accelerating our abilities to act on our own, to connect with others and to make our opinions heard.
We're changing our behaviors to take advantage of this in many realms of life. We rely on our social networks to help us pick our shoes. We plan our conferences on wikis. We hear about mobile phone carrying farmers gaining influence in the marketplace. We debate how to calibrate the increasing role of SMS messages in everything from disaster response to election monitoring to overthrowing government. These are distinct activities centered around tech-amplified communications. But they all point to the way we communicate within our networks and beyond, for purposes both prosaic and profound.
More important than the technology are the conditions, attitudes, and expectations of the constituents and the powers that be. Keystone is helping international NGOs actively reach out, to seek feedback. They are helping organizations invite information and use it. This establishes a conversational attitude about the information that is shared. If you don't reach out, it's no longer the case that you won't hear from your customers. It's likely that may be 'sent' even more feedback - customers walking away and not coming back, unhappy constituents, failure to solve problems, and adversarial relationships with the very people your organization may need most. Whether or not you do anything with that feedback is up to you, but be certain of one thing - folks will be providing feedback.
As the Internet becomes ever more a part of how we work, share, shop, find information, and make change in the world this issue of feedback will become ever more important. A recent study by the Pew Center on the Internet and American Life found that online communications are quite embedded in how we go about "making the world a better place." As one of the report's author's noted, "Even in its absence, the internet seems to be a factor in the reality of how groups perform in the digital age."
We're already seeing this in cities - the use of the Internet for collective local action such as pothole fixing and neighborhood activism is well-documented. (see here, here and here for examples) As this story in O'Reilly Radar notes the Internet is becoming a new platform for collective action. All of this means that feedback is not only more necessary, you're going to get it whether you want it or not. So it probably makes sense to figure out how to use it.
The Pew study looked primarily at how people use the internet to get involved. The Keystone tools and reports look at how organizations can gather and use the opinions and expertise of their constituents to better serve their community. The analysis in both of the reports point to something grander than either study would dare claim at this point - so I will: the Internet is re-shaping how and where and with whom we make change happen. Feedback implies reaching out and getting something from the outside. But what's really going on here is that the outside has come inside and the inside has left the building