Gathering feedback – an exercise in formative assessment.

Those of us who have worked in the education sector are usually very familiar with the concept of formative assessment. It’s an ongoing process where we check progress regularly rather than waiting until the end. It means we can make adjustments when we realise things are going awry or keep doing the things that are working.

At MakeMore Arts, we see every feedback form as an opportunity to gain formative assessment on ourselves. Being told we’re 10 out of 10 sounds quite nice doesn’t it? But it doesn’t help us to move on and improve.  

That means our feedback forms are really important to us!

It doesn’t count!

In our minds, feedback doesn’t count if it’s not anonymous! How many of us have lied on a feedback form because we feel a little bit bad about telling the whole truth? Or we know the organiser? Or we don’t want to upset anyone because they were all really nice? Or we don’t want to be judged for not being positive? Or we don’t want to sound ungrateful? Or we know they need good feedback for their funders?

However, at MakeMore Arts, we believe that useful feedback is truthful feedback.

Therefore, we believe that feedback needs to be collected in a way that ensures anonymity for the person giving the feedback. Participants also need to know it’s definitely anonymous, for example because you’ve written it across the top of the form, because if there’s any doubt, they’ll assume it isn’t anonymous and may well moderate what they write.

If you’re requesting the feedback in a digital form (for example via an email after an event), we’d suggest you take some steps to ensure anonymity and make sure that you flag up to participants that you have done so, so that they know their feedback is anonymous.

This also means you can’t collect the feedback directly off the person who has given it. You can’t take it out of their hands and say: “Thank you very much!” (because they know you’re going to look at it the second they turn their back).

We’d suggest you have some sort of store at the ready – such as a post box or big brown envelope, or similar, to put all the gathered feedback inside together peruse later (no cheating).

To ensure anonymity, you also need to separate any form where you ask for people’s email addresses from the form where you ask for feedback – because email addresses often contain people’s names.

✴︎ Be Focused

We like to keep the questions short – nobody wants to spend 10 minutes trawling through questions, so we try to pick one thing that we actually want to know about, then have a second vague box for ‘any other comments’ (this is where we’ll get lots and lots of gushing praise and thanks if our offer was genuinely positive and enjoyable).

Be Curious

If our feedback is more than just a box-ticking exercise, we’ll actually want to know the bad as well as the good. If it’s genuinely formative, we’ll want to know how to make the experience better for everyone. Whilst it’s useful to know which bits our participants loved (so we can do it again), we also need to invite criticism. How often do we see a feedback form that says please tell us all your niggles?

How often do we ask, please, please, please, tell us absolutely everything that would have made this better?

We recommend these questions – and we try to emphasise to anyone kind enough to take the time to give us feedback that we really do want to know the answers. It’s how we’ll improve the experience for everyone. Not only do we want it, we’re extremely grateful.

Then we need to read it and decide whether it’s valid and whether we can and should act on it. You never know, all our participants might tell us the same little niggle. Wouldn’t that be interesting…? We try to implement the feedback as soon as we can – if we’re able to, we tweak our projects if they’re still underway, for example by making adjustments to workshops after each session.

Top tips for gathering feedback