Challenging the feedback door

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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