6. Feedback, complaints and response mechanisms

Most staff will have experiences of meeting people who are not fully happy with the work or behaviour of CARE or partners in their community or region.  Most of this feedback or complaint is received informally e.g. people approach staff who are visiting the community, or visit CARE’s office in search of assistance or resolution to their problems or grievances. It is also not unusual for staff of one agency to receive a complaint about another agency. Receiving feedback, suggestions and complaints about our work is normal, important and should be welcomed.

Whilst there are occasions where complaints are handled well by field staff, there are many examples when they are not. At times, staff, already overwhelmed with day to day emergency activities, may find it difficult to manage the informal feedback and complaint they receive, might not prioritise complaints, or might forget or lose complaints. Tensions can also arise when a complaint is received about a member of staff and it is not clear how this complaint will be dealt with and by whom.

To improve this, CARE offices should put in place a more formalised system of soliciting, receiving, processing and responding to the feedback and complaints we receive. These systems should aim to provide a safe, non-threatening and easily accessible mechanism that enables even the most powerless to make a suggestion or complaint. On the part of CARE, this requires us to address and respond to all complaints, and to be timely and transparent in our decisions and actions.

Experience shows that complaints mechanisms can have enormous benefits for both communities and for CARE staff.  It can help to establish a relationship of trust between staff and communities and improve the impact of our response.  It can help save time and money that would otherwise be wasted.  It can help build a safer organisation and safer environment for our staff, and for our beneficiaries, especially the most vulnerable amongst them.  On the other hand, setting up a mechanism that does not function well (for example if complaints are not followed up) may contribute to frustration and worsening relationships with communities and local stakeholders.

Complaints procedures can be simple, although they need to be carefully planned and follow certain key principles. A badly designed or managed complaints procedure can be harmful.  Here are 10 discussion points and suggestions for good practice to help establish a complaints mechanism that is:

      • appropriate
      • safe
      • well understood
      • promotes transparency
      • timely
      • effective
      • accessible to all

Checklist to help establish a complaints mechanism

      1. Plan and budget for a complaints mechanism from the beginning of an emergency
      2. Build staff awareness and commitment to a complaints mechanism
      3. Provide a range of ways people can complain
      4. Make sure it can handle extreme cases of fraud and abuse
      5. Be clear about the scope of the complaints mechanism and communicate this clearly
      6. Develop a complaints mechanism procedure document and always follow the established procedure
      7. Clearly communicate the complaints mechanism to all key stakeholders as part of overall information sharing systems
      8. Complete the feedback loop: use the complaints data to improve overall performance and to provide feedback to communities (two way communication and feedback)
      9. Be clear on roles and responsibilities in managing complaints, and provide adequate training and support to staff
      10. Monitor the complaints mechanism to verify that it is effective

See Annex 9.18 Feedback, complaints and response mechanisms for further detail.