Thank You For Complaining About Our ICT4D Intervention

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Recently, I received a strong complaint about an ICT4D intervention I was working on. At first my colleagues who were helping me with this project and I were angry and hurt. Our initial reactions included:

  • How dare they criticize us, we’re just trying to help!
  • Who are they to judge? They’ve not done what we have!
  • Where did we mess up so bad to get a complaint?

Yet, after thinking about it, I realized we shouldn’t react in the negative. In fact, I started to get excited, and wanted to celebrate. Why?
Complaints Are Compliments
I was excited that someone complained about our project because it meant three very important actions were taking place in the mind of our constituent:
1. They Cared.
Their complaint meant that that our constituents had not only noticed our intervention, but they were emotionally invested in it enough to think about its impact and how it could be improved. This is so much better than them not noticing, or noticing and then not caring about improving the service.
2. They Trusted Us.
Giving feedback is a very vulnerable act. The complainer has now exposed themselves to the intervention directors as someone who is brave enough to complain. In the usual power dynamic of international development, where the intervention directors can quickly shift needed resources elsewhere, a complaint requires great trust.  I took it as an honor they would trust us to listen.
3. We Can Now Improve.
We must seek out feedback to improve any intervention, so constituent feedback is improvement gold. Where my colleagues and I initially were angry and hurt, I started to read and re-read the feedback to figure out how we could improve our service for this constituent – and any other with the same issue. If only we could get more honest feedback, we could all be so much better in our work.
That is why I now take constituent complaints as high compliments. Its not easy, and I’m just as likely as the next person to initially react with hurt and anger, but we must look beyond our quick emotions to the underlying reality that complaints mean they care, they trust us, and we can now improve to earn even more trust.
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