Is Anyone Listening?

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Is Anyone Listening?

KumasiKumasi, Gana
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

VOTO revolutionizes our ability to hear the opinions and needs of poor people in developing nations. We will regularly survey people across the world and compare their expressed needs with donor priorities to create the Is Anyone Listening? Index" (IALI). Our motto: More Voices, Better Choices!

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if the voice of poor people could effectively influence the design, monitoring and evaluation of aid interventions?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Aid priorities are too often dictated by the powerful, with no accountability to the poor people they are serving. These priorities are often the result of political agendas and trends set by other donors. Projects that stem from these priorities rarely undergo public scrutiny and the people they are meant to help are seldom involved in their design, implementation or evaluation on any meaningful level. VOTO, EWB and the CGD will change that.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We will choose 40 developing countries that are receiving the most aid (OECD), and with the strongest governance performance (IIAG). Every 6 months, we will survey 2000 people in each of these countries, reaching adequate gender and rural/urban representation. We intend to poll for development priorities (jobs, education, health, etc.) and level of satisfaction with services received from government, NGOs, and other organizations. This will provide a unique perspective on poor people’s priorities and will be a demonstrative exercise in democracy. The data will be shared in real time on a public web data portal for donors and advocacy groups. Two IALI rankings will be created: Best listening donors, and Most listened-to countries.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Indices are powerful motivators. Rankings such as the TIMSS/PIRLS, the Green House Gas (GHG) Data, the WB’s Doing Business, the UN’s HDI, the OECD’s ODA, and the IIAG/Afrobarometer incite extensive public debate. Such benchmarks are rare within development assistance, making comparison and evaluation extremely challenging. We’re excited previous CGD work has already created much public discourse: As with other rankings, IALI’s goal is to improve performance by helping establish standards to measure against. IALI also develops a methodology that is cheap and effective proving to the world that listening is not only possible, but can be easily integrated into the design, monitoring and evaluation of interventions.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

All partners have a solid track record in policy influence: VOTO has run a number of multilingual polls to date, with a minimum 25% response rate. Among these, surveys in Uganda, Nigeria, and India that determined the minimum hours of off-grid refrigeration required for vaccine supply chains. In Accra, a survey of water and sanitation infrastructure has helped guide the design of a $100m World Bank investment. Other Ghana polls have led to changes in utility pricing, and finding that 47% of citizens admitted to paying bribes in the last 12 months! On the advocacy side, our partner EWB has successfully led many campaigns related to aid efficacy, resulting in bills that untied Canadian aid, committed Canada to IATI, and ensured 100% of Canada’s aid went to the needs of the poor. The CGD brings credibility and rigor in our survey methodology, data analysis and construction of the index.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

The annual cost of our survey is ~$75,000 in airtime; ~$250,000 with translation, analysis and communication costs. We are currently in talks with donors such as Gates, Rockefeller, Mo Ibrahim, Open Society, Hewlett and Omidyar Foundations as well as the World Bank and the UNDP to help support this project. It is the 3-country pilot project, estimated at $20,000, that we are hoping to fund with this proposal.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

There are a number of players in the mobile feedback space, notably Praekelt Foundation, GeoPoll, and Instedd. Afro/Latinobarometer have also built strong reputations. However, none of them combine a global scope, a best-in-class voice-based platform especially designed to reach ~1billion illiterate people, and a demonstrated expertise in governance and advocacy. By combining VOTO’s expertise in survey technology and methodology (100 users, 60’000 people reached), EWB’s in advocacy, and CDG’s in development policy research, we offer a truly unique solution to a 50-year aid-old global problem.

Founding Story

This started as a consulting project with district planning offices across Ghana. Because of the devolution of power from central to district governments, international donors asked district offices to spend specific budgets building boreholes, schools, or clinics. Unfortunately, district planning officers were unfamiliar with the state of current infrastructure and constituent preferences. The only way to get that information was multi-week in-person surveys, which drained enormous staff, vehicle, and financial resources. Most districts could not conduct the surveys, so spent down the donor budgets in villages where they were personally connected. With a national mobile penetration above 90%, we knew there was a better way. VOTO was born.
About You
VOTO Mobile (with EWB Canada and Center for Global Development)
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

VOTO Mobile (with EWB Canada and Center for Global Development)

Organization Country

, Kumasi

Country where this project is creating social impact

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Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

The impact of this project will materialize when donors, local government agencies and NGOs collect and include the voice of the "underheard" in the design, monitoring and evaluation of development intervention. This will be achieved through incentives and tools. The incentives are a ranking and associated public discourse surrounding donor's performance in aligning policies with poor people's priorities (IALI). Tools will include a public web data portal of poor people's priorities, as well as a methodology and set of mobile tools (Feedback Lab members) who can help collect these voices.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Our biggest challenge will be building the credibility our data. No one likes to show up at the bottom of a ranking. Some of the criticism we have already received includes:
-Old, very sick, ultra poor and other very disadvantaged groups don't have a mobile phone and won't be represented. Answer: IALI will show the preference of a majority of citizens, especially aimed at large-scale development interventions.
-Should aid be in line with the people's priorities, or the local government's priorities? Answer: IALI will focus on 'good governance' states, and become a tool to local governments.

Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

We are proud to partner with Engineers Without Borders Canada, and especially with their Director of Advocacy James Haga. EWB is responsible for leading our global advocacy efforts and partnerships for the index and web data platform.

We are also partnering with the Center for Global Development, and especially with their Senior Fellow Ben Leo. The CGD is responsible for advising in the areas of survey design, data analysis and index building.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Help funders, governments, and other organizations to listen to and act on feedback.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.
Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English, French.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

What information? These are sample questions we hope to ask:
(a) In your opinion, what could make the biggest improvement in your standard of living over the next [5] years?
(b) In your opinion, of the following options, what would make the smallest improvement in your standard of living over the next [5] years?
(c) Do you trust the government or NGOs to to effectively spend development resources.

Information from whom? A randomly selected set of 2000 individuals from the countries that are in the bottom 20% of the HDI, top 20% of aid recipients, and top 50% of cellphone penetration.

Information to whom? The aid community, and in particular OECD donor countries. In the form of an index and web portal.

To bring about what change? Encourage all donors and aid actors to respond to people's expressed needs and priorities, and to monitor how those change in the course of an intervention.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Creating broader awareness of issue/movement building

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

Phone or voice.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

Every 6 months, we will conduct an 8-question survey using IVR technology in all major languages in a given country. The first 4 questions will be designed to gather information about the respondent (gender, age, rural/urban, language), and the next 4 questions will provide insights on the respondent's needs and preferences.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?


If other, please specify

We will publish the results of the survey in national media through our advocacy partners.

How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?


If other, please specify

We will ensure a proportional representation of women and people living in rural areas, and will cover as many languages.

What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?


If other, please specify

We are creating and publishing the results in an index.

How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?


If other, please specify

Respondents will see the results of the survey in national media, and adjustments to the aid priorities of donors.

How is feedback published/transparent?


If other, please specify

All of the above.

Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

We conducted in Ghana as a result of a rise in electricity prices. We published the results of this survey in a national media outlet and the government decided to reduce the prices. More details here:

After Ben Leo published his research and article "Is Anyone Listening?", many donors have engaged him on how best to align their priorities with the expressed needs of the poor.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

The nature of the survey forces us to make compromises. We would love to be able to ask more questions, more open questions, and in more languages.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

An “expert paradigm” where the perspectives on “non-experts” is not valued

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

Yes, I am already on it

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

Look at complementary services to find project partners.
Learn from other people's best practices when it comes to collecting and using feedback.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

It would be great to get a distilled set of insights from the judges of the competition on where the innovation lies, and what are the remaining challenges in this theme of "feedback loops".

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?

We will share the results of all surveys with the national media through advocacy partners in each country. Budget dependent, we would also like to send a recording of the survey results to each respondent in their language of choice.


Matt Kepple's picture

I like the ambition of this project. Having previously done some consulting in market research I am keen to understand more about how the data is mined and consolidated so that trends can be extracted from the voice answers people give. It sounds as though there are two potential aspects to this idea. On the one hand there is the tool which enables market research. On the other hand there is the indice which is created from all the data. Both of these could have separate funding streams and/or commercial arrangements. There is a lot of opportunity here and it would be a shame for the idea to not be fully exploited. All the best with it!

Mari Kuraishi's picture

I like the idea very much. While it seems initially to be a transparency play around aid priorities, the combination of creating an index on which countries will be ranked will harness competitive pressures. The published index is the point, but I hope that the project might also be able to make the raw data available so that it can be matched up against other sources of data.

Matt Kepple's picture

I like the ambition of this project. Having previously done some consulting in market research I am keen to understand more about how the data is mined and consolidated so that trends can be extracted from the voice answers people give. It sounds as though there are two potential aspects to this idea. On the one hand there is the tool which enables market research. On the other hand there is the indice which is created from all the data. Both of these could have separate funding streams and/or commercial arrangements. There is a lot of opportunity here and it would be a shame for the idea to not be fully exploited. All the best with it!