How Do Feedback Tools Work?
“Across Government right now, people are
looking at ideation—ways to form ideas
and gather information on a particular
topic,” said Andrew Wilson, a web and new
media specialist at SAMHSA’s Office of
Communications. “Feedback tools are easy-to-use web-based systems that work for
external engagement with the public and also
In early fall 2010, Mr. Wilson took the lead on
setting up User Voice as an ideation tool to
allow visitors to the SAMHSA website to submit,
discuss, and vote on ideas. The topic?
SAMHSA’s draft document on Leading
Change: A Plan for SAMHSA’s Roles and
Actions: 2011–2014 (Leading Change).
“This document addresses potential
changes to the Agency’s mission,” Mr. Wilson
said. “Therefore, SAMHSA Administrator
Pam Hyde felt it was important to gauge the
public’s reaction to it.”
As it turned out, an incredible amount of
feedback came in about Leading Change. In
8 weeks, people in the behavioral health field
and the public had submitted approximately
700 ideas to improve the document.
SAMHSA staff tracked comments on the full
text and also on individual sections. “We
had nine simultaneous forums running at
the same time,” Mr. Wilson said. After the
comment period ended (in late October),
the review process began. By the time that
ended, SAMHSA had the feedback needed.
“The time it takes to filter all the feedback
is the greatest challenge,” Mr. Wilson said.
“The big question is how to find better
ways to improve the process of filtering
One efficient way is to create targeted
questions for the public, Mr. Wilson explained.
“Questions need to be sufficiently narrow
to encourage concrete responses,” he said.
“An abstract question receives abstract
comments that are difficult to categorize.”
Recently, the User Voice feedback tool
was used to gather advance questions for
SAMHSA’s session on social media at the
CADCA Leadership Forum, which followed
SAMHSA’s Community Prevention Day in
In the future, SAMHSA is considering
feedback tools such as User Voice to engage
with the public and to improve SAMHSA’s
internal operations. In addition, SAMHSA
has created a new public forum, “Ask
This article was adapted from an HHS Center for
New Media podcast. The Center “introduces,
shares, and discusses new and innovative media