Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?
The purpose of the feedback loop that exists between Eco Fuels Kenya and our BoP collectors is to improve the collection process of our indigenous raw material (Croton Nuts) to create a mutually benefiting situation for both parties. Since there is no good data on tree population or seasonality of the nuts, we rely on feedback from collectors (via the SMS platform) as Croton Nuts are getting ready to fall to plan when pick-ups/deliveries can take place, giving us the ability to plan and organize the logistics needed to facilitate collections. In conjunction, we use the SMS platform to communicate with our over 1,000 collectors reminders of the income potential for collecting Croton for us, and then when it is time; when and where we will be conducting collections, such as a convenient meeting spot on a certain day, so that they can make sure to participate. In addition, we also notify collectors when we have paid their agent (i.e group leader/middle-man), and they communicate back to us that their fair and accurate payment has been received or whether or not they have not been paid appropriately. Thus, this feedback loop puts accountability in a system of money exchanges that otherwise would be difficult to track.
The change we are bringing about is two-fold. First off, by using the SMS network to remain in close contact with our collectors we are able to increase the income that they earn from the simple harvesting activity of Croton nuts and verify that they receive payment fairly for their work. Second, our organization gets otherwise-unavailable insight into a rural supply chain of an indigenous material sourced through BoP who only operate in an informal economy. This intelligence is used to help the organization make strategic decisions and plan appropriately, such as ensuring an adequate supply and pipeline of raw materials is available as we scale our operations. These two pieces together ensure that the increased collections of Croton nuts in the future, our biggest challenge to scale, will be a manageable problem.
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?
Our feedback loop happens almost entirely in the SMS software tool we have implemented in mid-2013. The tool behaves a lot like email marketing tools in the western world. First, collectors subscribe to our network by sending an SMS to our unique phone number with the word “collect” and their location, which triggers an auto-response confirming their subscription. Then, collectors are organized into groups (based on their geographical location/collection center) on the cloud-based SMS software. We then have the ability to, from the browser, send a mass SMS to the entire population of collectors, any subset of collector groups or individual collectors themselves. Collectors can then reply to the SMSs and we will get the response in the cloud software, making it easy for a single staff to manage the SMSs of over 1,000 collectors.
Of course, not all logistics and problem-solving can take place over SMS, which is why often follow-up phone calls are required to complete the collection process. However, the SMS technology does allow us to efficiently handle a large network of BoP, ‘off-grid’ collectors and operate as a lean start-up.
If other, please specify
N/A - There is no retribution in our feedback loop.
If other, please specify
Due to the nature of the rural, BoP communities that make up our collection network; all voices have equal value in our process.
If other, please specify
N/A - The SMS software only exists between the collectors and our organization, no external reports or provides is necessary.
If other, please specify
All feedback is stored in our cloud-based, SMS software for reporting or publishing requirements
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.
Example 1: Increasing Predictability/Increasing Supply and BoP Income
If a collector in a particular region reports to us (via SMS) that nuts are getting ready to fall and we have many collection centers nearby in that same region, we would send a mass SMS to all those collectors reminding them to harvest the fallen Croton nuts. This ensures that collectors are being encouraged and reminded about the income-generating potential at the appropriate time and can plan to harvest the supply accordingly.
Example 2: Verifying Payment to Collectors
After a payment is made to a group organizer/agent, we can send an SMS to all members of the group asking they have been paid accurately by the agent, in which they have the ability to reply and confirm or report any issues. Ensuring that collectors gets paid isn't just something we do out of business ethics, but to ensure that collectors are treated fairly and will continue to collect for us in future seasons; growing both the strength of our supply chain and the seasonal income created for our collectors.
If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?
One thing we would like to improve upon to increase the impact of our feedback loop is to perform additional outreach to ensure all collectors are properly subscribed and categorized into their group-based locations. Our SMS system currently has about 1,000 collectors subscribed to it, but based on feedback from our first Impact Report (completed this week) we had over 1,500 collectors active in our most recent season; many of whom weren't part of the 1,000 subscribed to the SMS system. With support from grant funding such as that given from this project, we would allocate resources to visit each collection center and ensure that all actual and active collectors are properly subscribed, ensuring the most accountability and impact for future collection seasons.
I believe that our SMS network of over 1,000 (hopefully to-be 3,000 by the end of 2014) of Laikipia county's poorest populations has the potential to be used for much more than just the collection of Croton nuts. I would be interested in using applications from the Feedback Store to look into additional services we can provide and data we can collect from our collectors to see how we could help address some of the other challenges they have.
What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?
A clearer communication of requirements, dates and how to complete forms. I found some aspects of the process confusing and had to spend additional time 'exploring' the Changemakers site to find what I needed to do to complete the requirements. Clearer instruction, with links, via email would be helpful.
What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?
With the instant nature of our feeback loop, providers are empowered in real-time. Two quick examples of this are as follows:
1) In July of 2013 we were struggling to get answers as to why we were not getting the collections we needed, so we used our newly-implemented SMS system to ask collectors. Overwhelmingly, they came back to us with the answer that we were not paying enough for the Croton nuts. We used this feedback to increase the price from KSH 7 per KG to KSH 10 per KG, which resulted in the collection volumes we needed in under 3 weeks and increased the income for our collectors by 30%, empowering collectors through increased income.
2) If collectors report they are not paid properly by the group leader/agent, we immediately get involved to rectify the situation since fair payments is one of the most important parts of maintain crucial relationships with collectors. This is ensuring adequate payment is happening ASAP and empowers collectors to 'speak up' (over SMS) when they are not being treated fairly.