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This week, Charlie discusses the best way of utilising feedback forms after your exercises, and why they should be used in most exercises. 

This is rather an obscure subject to write about, but I was inspired by our ‘lunch and learn session’. We are going to be doing a session on feedback forms and we will be discussing when we should use them, and after what events. So, this week you have my thoughts on the ‘use of feedback forms after exercises’.

What is the purpose of getting people to fill in a feedback form after an exercise? For me, there are three reasons. The first, is to comment on the exercise and give them an opportunity to assess the exercise as an experience, and comment on if the running of it could be improved. The second is to collect information that there may not be time to collect verbally, or people may be reluctant to share the information on a public forum. Thirdly, it can be part of the assessment of the exercise.

I am ambivalent about collecting information on how much those taking part in the exercise enjoyed the exercise and mainly gave me ‘excellent’, rather than ‘very good’, ‘average’, or ‘poor’. As an exercise planner, you will have a good idea of how successful the exercise preparation was and don’t need a feedback form to tell you. Where this type of assessment is useful is that it gives you an indicator if the team, or members of the team, are unhappy with the way the exercise was run. If you get some poor feedback, you can go to who commissioned the exercise, and inform them they might have a complaint. If you are a consultant, this could be important, as the commissioner of the exercise can hear from both parties, rather than just the complainant. The issue might be about their own performance, or the situation they were placed in, rather than your planning and running of the exercise. To get some feedback on the running of the exercise can be useful, but I find, on the whole, that there are not too many comments.

A feedback form can be a useful way of collecting information and opinions from people who may not be happy to share them with the team, or if the time is tight for the debrief, then there may not be time for everyone to share their views. One of the usual questions I will ask on a feedback form is ‘identify three actions which should be carried out to improve (client) response’. I find the information written here a useful contribution to the debrief of the exercise. I normally get people to write it during the debrief. I think only one set of questions like this should be included if there are more completed responses than people who don’t bother to fill in the form. I also think a qualitative response here is better than a mark-out-of-five question. I think it is important that, in the post-exercise report, all people’s comments are written verbatim so there is a record of opinions and can be revisited if required.

 PlanB has an Exercise Capability Maturity Assessment which we use to assess the performance of incident teams. By baselining their performance through a series of tailored assessments, in future exercises, the team can be reassessed and see if they are improving on the maturity scale. As part of this assessment, we like to have an element of self-assessment. This is usually centred around teamwork, leadership, and opinion on the organisation’s plans and procedures. At the end of the exercise, the team is given a series of questions to answer. An example of the questions and the assessment is as follows:

Question: Team Worked Together for a Common Purpose

Possible answers:

1. Effective: clear team purpose, understanding team tasks, timely progress, purpose achieved.

2. Fairly effective: some shared understanding of purpose & tasks, progress made.

3. Somewhat effective: purpose / tasks unclear, comms difficult, little progress towards purpose.

4. Ineffective: Poor understanding of purpose, lack of comms, little/no progress towards purpose.

The team must decide on which one applies to them. I have up to 12 questions on the form and encourage those filling it in not to agonise over the answers and go with their gut. As part of a maturity assessment, I like to have team feedback so that the team gets a 365 view of themselves, and feel that there is no umpire’s bias. My tip is again, not to have too many questions, so people are not put off filling in the form.

If you are going to use a paper feedback form, you have to get participants to fill them in before the exercise has finished. They can be filled in during the debrief. If you don’t get people to fill them in before they leave the exercise room, they will never fill them in. This can be an issue with hybrid exercises and online exercises as you can’t give out paper forms. If you have online delegates, you can give them a Survey Monkey, Google, or Microsoft Forms link, but I have always found that the take up of filling in the form is much lower than giving people a paper form and getting them to fill it out there and then.

On balance, I think you should, if possible, get exercise participants to fill out a feedback form as they can provide a useful extra dimension to your exercise and additional information. It can also provide you with some early indication that those participating in the exercise might complain about the running of it. You need to allow time to fill out the form and you need to collect it before the exercise participants leave. 

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