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Listen First

The idea behind the Listen First project is to ensure our work truly reflects the needs of the poorest and most marginalised people.

Community member at meeting of community and Concern staff, Grand Bassa, Liberia. Nov 2007 Studies have shown that NGOs deliver high-quality work when they are accountable to the people they aim to serve. But, curiously, NGOs do not usually manage this accountability on a systematic basis. More attention is often paid to being accountable to donors.

Working more effectively

We developed Listen First with Mango, a partner organisation who specialise in helping aid agencies work more effectively. Together, we did some research.

This involved speaking to people we work with about what they thought of our performance. We worked with NGO staff to help them develop relationships with their intended beneficiaries. Academic research was also carried out.

Altogether, the project involved over 530 people in six communities where we work.

Basic principles

We then used the results of this research to come up with basic principles NGOs can follow to ensure they’re accountable to the poorest people. Under these guidelines, NGOs should:

  • Provide information publically
  • Involve people in making decisions
  • Listen to feedback and complaints
  • Focus on staff attitudes and behaviours

In basic terms, these principles set out that NGOs “should listen more than talk, learn more than teach, and facilitate more than lead.”


As part of Listen First, many documents were produced explaining the tools, research methods, and findings of the project. Since many agencies are grappling with similar issues, we thought these could be of use for others.

These documents are also available in the resources section on this site. To find out more, visit the Listen First website.