Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?
Yellow Seed’s Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM) provides direct access to the voices of small-scale farmers to ensure that donor funding for global agricultural initiatives is allocated effectively and generates the desired impact.
Currently, approximately $11 billion USD is spent yearly on global agricultural initiatives or 6% of all international aid (OECD, 2013). This funding is focused particularly on small-scale farmers, because studies show that small-scale farmers account for 86% of the global rural poor and growth generated by agriculture is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than growth in other sectors. (Bage, 2008)
The problem is that decisions on how to allocate this funding are generally made with a top-down approach and sometimes don’t reflect the real needs of the farmers. This is because farmers are often widely dispersed and it is difficult as well as time-consuming to hear directly from farmers. As as result, funding initiatives often fall short when it comes to fully addressing the issues facing farmers.
For example, today’s funding initiatives are generally focused on improving crop yields by providing access to drought and disease resistant seeds, information on productive farming techniques and weather forecasts via SMS text. The majority of farmers however, still face huge barriers when it comes to marketing and transporting their products to market and negotiating fair trade conditions, including price, for the sale of their products. As a result, many farmers end up selling their products undervalue at the farm gate or in the local markets.
The purpose of Yellow Seed’s Donor Feedback Mechanism (DFM) is to hear directly from the voices of farmers to understand how donor funding can be best allocated. Yellow Seed will already be working closely with farmers in association with Yellow Seed’s online platform enabling trade between small-scale farmers and buyers. Yellow Seed synthesizes information collected from farmers as well as market preferences from buyers in order to build farm profiles and connect with farmers regarding new trading opportunities and buyer feedback. Donors have the option to request and/or pay for additional information or assessments to be facilitated by YS. Yellow Seed facilitators will be able to speak with farmers via phone, farm visits, SMS text and community meetings to hear what resources farmers need and analyze the effectiveness of past funding.
The information will be made available to donors through graphs, visuals and reports on our website. Donors have the option to work in conjunction with Yellow Seed and contribute directly to specific farms or farming communities, or to use the information we provide to enhance their own funding programs. Reports and visuals are updated in real-time so that donors can track their funding, as well as recognize new challenges and opportunities.
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?
Yellow Seed will be collecting feedback from farmers on an individual level as well as a community level. These two feedback modes will use different methods.
Individual: Interviews, both in person and over the phone, will be used to fill out ‘farmer profiles’ for our online website. These will include farmer’s personal stories, product profiles, current production status, processing methods, and distribution challenges as well as donor feedback. The donor feedback will cover the effectiveness of past funding, current challenges and any lack of resources that they have to fulfill market demands (for example, farming supplies or better local roads for distribution), as well as assets that could be enhanced. This feedback will be posted online on the farmer profile page where donors have the option of contributing directly to that farmer. Similar challenges are tagged and grouped on the website so that both donors and farmer networks can see how effective resources were utilized, informing their future funding.
Community: As some donors prefer to contribute at a community rather than individual level, Yellow Seed will also use participatory budgeting so that farmers can decide as a group how donor funds intended for the community should be allocated. This process will use community consultation to ask farmers for ideas on how the funding could be most impactful as well as tap into their community knowledge. The top ideas will then be anonymously voted on by farmers using SMS text and this information will be published on our website through graphs and visuals. In Peru, although internet is still not easily accessible, mobile penetration rates are 118% and cell reception is widespread.
If other, please specify
Access to new markets, higher wages, resources and support networks.
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Donor’s are under increasing pressure to provide transparency and accountability, and have an inherent desire to make an impact.
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Farmers will benefit by receiving resources to support their farms and their communities.
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.
MindMixer is a "virtual town hall" that is designed to help organizations communicate more effectively with their communities. An organization is able to post a challenge let the community help find solutions. Then MindMixer gathers valuable feedback by utilizing polls and surveys to gauge community sentiment. The organization is then able to gain valuable insights and make policies or programs that have community support. For example in Park City, Utah, one resident’s idea to implement a community composting program became a reality when Park City’s Environmental Sustainability Manager approved the concept, which is similar to an ordinance passed by the city of San Francisco. Mindmixer is working with 400 different communities across the US and has engaged 800,000 participants thus far. www.mindmixer.com
Akvo FLOW is a software tool that collects, manages, analyses and displays geographically referenced monitoring and evaluation data using mobile phones. It is a tool built specially for international development teams to monitor and evaluate initiatives while working in diverse locations that are often remote or lacking reliable basic infrastructure. It is designed for people who want to understand what is happening now, so they can make informed decisions that lead to secure, sustainable development aid investments. Water and Sanitation for Africa (WSA) is using Akvo FLOW to assess the functionality of 1,500 wells in West Africa and to develop long-term sustainability guidelines for current and future projects. People living in areas affected by water management are motivated and rewarded for reporting any problems or giving feedback regarding their dedicated water point through the TTC SMS-service. When problems are reported to the TTC system, different organisations are notified in real-time and interventions can be planned or executed immediately. www.akvo.org
If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?
Yellow Seed’s biggest challenge will be in creating awareness of our Donor Feedback Mechanism and building donor trust in the process. We will be working closely with a small set of donors to create the tool, after which, we will be looking for ways to get the word out to a larger set of donor organizations.
Ultimately we would like to open up Yellow Seed’s ‘donor feedback directed’ funding model to other individuals and companies interested in supporting the livelihoods of small-scale farmers, and subsequently environmentally sustainable farming methods and the move away from highly globalized, mass processed food. This is the mission of Yellow Seed’s online tool which connects small-scale farmers directly to buyers, enabling farmers to access a fair price for their products. By incorporating more donors into the model, more farmers will receive the resources they need and the project can scale faster. The long-term vision is to expand into different countries and agricultural products, positively impacting as many small-scale farmers as possible.
Yes, I am not yet on it, but I can see myself using it as a resource in the future. Learning from similar tools to improve effectiveness and use of Yellow Seed’s DFM as well as sharing or publishing our beta version on the site to solicit feedback from the community.
What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?
Multi-user capacity and log-in, in order to access forum and post individual responses via a team submission.
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?
Studies show that improved trade relationships and trust result in better coordination, efficiency and effectiveness in the market system. Yellow Seed believes that once farmers see action happening as a result of their feedback, such as improved wages, access to new markets and access to funding which helps them acquire needed tools and resources to meet buyer needs, farmers will feel empowered and understand the true purpose of the information they are providing.