“We would prefer to give feedback in person as some of us can’t read and write.” 

Participant in a focus group discussion

The concept of complaints and feedback in Myanmar is not something immediately understood or obvious when consulting communities. People are usually reluctant to raise concerns or make complaints and have little awareness of their right to do so. This reflects a culture where it can be seen as inappropriate to complain when people are trying to help.

When the Myanmar Red Cross Society, with support from the IFRC, ran a community consultation about preferences for providing feedback, it showed that both women and men felt there was no need to provide feedback or complaints because everything ran smoothly. While this was positive, at the same time the community mobilizers received many questions from the community. It was therefore clear that the broader definition of feedback needed to be clarified, both with community members and volunteers, to encourage feedback that encompasses questions, and not just complaints. The language used to translate “complaint” and “feedback” is also important. The Burmese word for “suggestion” is a more positive way to translate these terms, which can both be perceived as negative.

The Myanmar Red Cross carried out a series of community focus group discussions and interviews with staff and volunteers, which found:

  • There was a low awareness of their right to complain and provide feedback.
  • Feedback was often considered negative rather than constructive.
  • Although there were some differing preferences for feedback channels, the overwhelming preference was for verbal feedback via committee leaders or volunteers.
  • Men voiced a preference to be able to provide written feedback (more men than women are literate), although verbal was still the overriding preference. None of the women consulted wanted to provide written feedback.
  • It is strongly preferred that written communications materials about the feedback system are in the local dialect as more people can read and write local dialect than Burmese (approximately 80 per cent vs. 50 per cent).
  • Suggestion boxes exist but are not widely used because many people are illiterate and/or are not sure how to use them.

Creating the system based on the community consultation and an analysis of existing community communication mechanisms, a variety of channels is now being used to gather and respond to complaints and feedback. These include face to face, with community mobilizers required to systematically gather feedback every time they are in a village and to document this in their monthly
reports. Monthly community meetings and ‘mothers’ clubs’ now also include sessions asking for feedback.

Mothers’ clubs are particularly important as the meetings primarily consist of women caregivers and
therefore provide a safe space for women to share their views and opinions. Finally, suggestion boxes were already in place for every village and so these continued to be used, but a renewed emphasis has been placed on reminding the community to use them, as well as providing written guidance on the accompanying noticeboard.

It is hoped that the proposed system will address the challenges posed – by utilizing the strong network of community mobilizers who are the only regular access to the villages; training and empowering volunteers to advocate for the right to give feedback and to raise complaints; providing multiple channels for feedback; and through the use of local languages for communications activities.