I was recently involved in a debate about the pros and cons of anonymous feedback. I’m not talking about feedback on social media channels or, indeed, feedback as part of a 360 degree performance review, where there are specific arguments for and against anonymity to be considered in each case; I’m talking about collecting feedback at a conference, Townhall-type event or training workshop when the organisers want to assess what might be done to make the event more effective / more valuable for participants.
While I personally sympathised with points made against anonymous feedback, I pointed out that neither of us would hesitate to say in person what others might only feel comfortable saying anonymously. (Thankfully), not everyone is as opinionated and forthright as we are, so if you are seeking the full range of perspectives, you may indeed need to build an anonymous survey into the mix.
Depending on the size, duration objectives and mix of attendees, some or all of the following feedback mechanisms may be appropriate:
Review / validation of aims/objectives and ground-rules
Obviously this needs to be right at the start of the event and, I would suggest, should be a plenary discussion as it thereby becomes an opportunity for participants to take co-ownership of the agenda and its delivery and will establish common understanding of roles, facilitation style, level of interactivity, etc.
In a large assembly comprising a number of distinct groups who are working towards common goals over an extended period, it may be helpful to appoint spokespeople who will provide regular feedback on behalf of their group. The scope of the role and when and how this feedback should take place needs to be agreed: evening feedback sessions are more of an imposition on the appointed individuals but gives the event facilitator enough time to ensure that the next day’s agenda addresses any issues or queries raised. An early morning session might throw up some curveballs which the facilitator doesn’t have time to accommodate.
The feedback should be a group session in which everyone is expected to contribute. In this way the group as a whole will be aware of any anomalies or discrepancies and decide together if a change in approach is required.
An Anonymous Postbox is a useful element to add to the mix from Day 1 and should be referenced every morning by the event facilitator to remind attendees of its purpose and demonstrate that it is being taken seriously.
Personally, I am in favour of these being a) anonymous and b) handed out at the end of the event for attendees to complete and hand back before they leave. This approach will maximise the response rate and feedback will be fresh and focused.
Obviously with anonymous feedback you can lose some useful context but with appropriately phrased, non-leading questions, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.
So, I believe that, despite the danger of ‘criticism without accountability’, anonymous feedback has its place. I vehemently disagree with anonymous feedback for 360 degree feedback. People should be prepared to stand by their (constructive) criticism. If they feel they can’t criticise, that is a serious indictment of the corporate culture … but that’s a whole other blog 😉