Is digital feedback useful in impact evaluations? It depends.

Article by Lois Aryee and Sara Flanagan: “Rigorous impact evaluations are essential to determining program effectiveness. Yet, they are often time-intensive and costly, and may fail to provide the rapid feedback necessary for informing real-time decision-making and course corrections along the way that maximize programmatic impact. Capturing feedback that’s both quick and valuable can be a delicate balance.

In an ongoing impact evaluation we are conducting in Ghana, a country where smoking rates among adolescent girls are increasing with alarming health implications, we have been evaluating a social marketing campaign’s effectiveness at changing girls’ behavior and reducing smoking prevalence with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although we’ve been taking a traditional approach to this impact evaluation using a year-long, in-person panel survey, we were interested in using digital feedback as a means to collect more timely data on the program’s reach and impact. To do this, we explored several rapid digital feedback approaches including social media, text message, and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) surveys to determine their ability to provide quicker, more actionable insights into the girls’ awareness of, engagement with, and feelings about the campaign. 

Digital channels seemed promising given our young, urban population of interest; however, collecting feedback this way comes with considerable trade-offs. Digital feedback poses risks to both equity and quality, potentially reducing the population we’re able to reach and the value of the information we’re able to gather. The truth is that context matters, and tailored approaches are critical when collecting feedback, just as they are when designing programs. Below are three lessons to consider when adopting digital feedback mechanisms into your impact evaluation design. 

Lesson 1: A high number of mobile connections does not mean the target population has access to mobile phones. ..

Lesson 2: High literacy rates and “official” languages do not mean most people are able to read and write easily in a particular language...

Lesson 3: Gathering data on taboo topics may benefit from a personal touch. …(More)”.