In Learning

Yesterday Barry O’Reilly tweeted a picture of some positive feedback collected after a showcase.

It immediately reminded me of the Feedback Door idea from Jurgen Appelo. You see, I always thought of it as being a great idea and have used it myself a few times but the picture I saw yesterday sewed a seed of doubt. The results were just too neatly clustered around “nice”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that the showcase Barry shared feedback from went very well and was skilfully organised. That’s not the point. I’m more concerned whether this way of collecting feedback in general is as useful as it at first appears.

To understand why there might be a problem let’s recall the series of Asch conformity experiments where a person invited to give their opinion on a trivial problem was swayed to pick the obviously wrong answer after everyone else in their group picked the same wrong answer (deliberately). What effect could this have in the Feedback Door case? If you thought the event was rather bad but everyone else before you rated it highly then you might be more reluctant to reveal your damning opinion. Instead you could begin to doubt: “perhaps I just didn’t get it… the training couldn’t have been so bad if everyone else thinks so highly of it…”.

Another angle to consider is what Tversky and Kahneman called the anchoring effect. In their experiments they observed that people tend to base their answer (especially if they’re asked for a numeric value) on a number they have seen or thought about before being asked the question. So if you’ve just attended a session and are unsure about how good it was, then seeing other people’s votes might anchor your own answer around that result. If you see everyone else giving out high scores you may inflate your own score. On the other hand, if no one else though it was good, you may give a lower score compared to what you would have done had you not seen any of the other score.

Overlay on top the problems identified collectively as groupthink, and it makes me at least slightly uncomfortable about the potential accuracy of this public form of collating feedback. This said, the feedback door may still be a much preferable option to not collecting feedback at all or collecting it after a long delay.

Still, I would prefer an alternative which does not reveal everybody’s own views immediately – perhaps a feedback box would be better than a feedback door…

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Showing 5 comments
  • Ceri Shaw

    I see your point, but I do like the feedback door idea. However I don’t think it should be the only way to collect feedback. It has the advantage of being quick and visual, so perhaps using it as Jurgen does between days and then a feedback box or online survey for an evaluation afterwards.

    • Marcin Floryan

      My suggestion was that we replace the door with a box for immediate feedback to make it deliberately less visual. The idea of visualisation is to radiate information out to people but in the case of feedback door that information is usually aimed at a single person. The feedback from the box should be looked at and (if possible) acted upon as soon as possible but not exposing it out to everyone removes the change that others will be bias with their information.

  • jurgenappelo

    I agree on all points. But it seems you’re not a complexity thinker. Because the _best_ effect of the happiness door is to contribute to the happiness in the room. Merely the fact that you’re “measuring” in a fun and transparent way, will positively _influence_ people in the room. It is a fine example of the observer influencing the system.

    I am totally transparent about that in my courses. Because I teach people that _how_ you measure can often have a much bigger effect on the system than trying to come up with a “best” measurement.

    You miss all that when you use a box. You wouldn’t motivate me when you used a box. It’s not complexity thinking. 🙂

    • Marcin Floryan

      Jurgen, thank for taking the time to share your thoughts. 

      There I am, all exposed and excluded from the community of complexity thinkers 😉 Maybe I redeem myself one day.

      Back to this piece, I was explicitly focusing my thoughts on your initial idea of the Feedback Door and not the Happiness Door. The intricate interaction between the measurements and the behaviour, or the Pygmalion effect are nice examples of positive feedback loops which, as we both know, can turn into both virtuous and vicious circles and the balance may be very fragile.

  • Jon Jagger

    And of course, it’s not an either or. You could easily ask everyone to fill out their feedback sticky and rank it 1-5 in private, and then ask everyone to stick them onto the door in the corresponding position.

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