#CDACLearn: The Art of Listening – Setting up a Two Way Communication Centre in Iraq

Source: Tue, 24 Mar 2015 12:02 PM
Photo: IOM
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Why and how is the humanitarian community listening and responding to the feedback from displaced communities in Iraq? These were some of the questions discussed at a recent #CDACLearn event.

Amy Rhoades (IOM Humanitarian Communications Programme Manager) and Sarah Mace (previously OCHA Iraq Communication with Communities Coordinator) shared their recent experiences of setting up the first inter-agency two-way communication centre in Iraq, at a #CDACLearn event on March 13.

Participants gathered in London and online to discuss lessons learned so far from setting up the national toll-free hotline, aimed at providing information to, and managing feedback from people displaced by the conflict in Iraq.

This initiative, the first of its kind, is being supported through financial and in-kind contributions from humanitarian agencies IOM, NRC, UNHCR, UNOPS, WFP and World Vision. UNHCR has provided funding to UNOPS for phone booths and managing the physical set up of the call centre. UNOPS is recruiting and training the call centre operatives, while WFP and the NGO partners will be providing funding and training for call centre staff, as well as raising awareness of the hotline amongst IDPs and host communities.

IOM is managing the online feedback platform for the project, building on Community Response Map developed in the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. As the platform is not yet collecting feedback through the call centre in Iraq, Amy Rhoades used data from the Philippines to demonstrate how the platform is used to map community feedback on a variety of issues, as well as analyse trends and gaps, and track referrals and actions taken to respond to the feedback.

Sarah Mace, whose role as OCHA Iraq CwC Coordinator included securing buy in to enable this inter-agency initiative to get off the ground, outlined some of the challenges so far. She noted that the communication centre is not yet up and running, despite the project being conceptualised following the interagency information and communication needs assessment in August 2014.

Amy and Sarah outlined three key challenges which slowed progress during the inception phase:

1) Lack of dedicated funds

The project is currently being financed through discrete funding from participating agencies, which has taken time to negotiate. Donors have expressed interest, though are eager to see results from the pilot before allocating funds to support it.

2) Multi stakeholder collaboration

Concerns about how the hotline would work alongside existing Government services, as well as data protection issues, took time to resolve. The hotline will refer queries to the relevant government or international agency where appropriate. Data will be protected so humanitarian staff will only be able to access data relevant to their cluster or agency.

3) Staff recruitment

Recruitment of call centre operators has taken time, as it was challenging to find applicants who spoke Arabic, Kurdish and English. UNFPA provided funding for two female positions, but few qualified women applied for the roles initially.

Despite the challenges faced during set up, progress is now being made. Six agencies have committed to the project and are actively participating; four call centre operators have been recruited, including Kurdish and Arabic speakers, and a woman; and the physical space is being set up over the coming weeks.

A budget has been set aside for ‘marketing’ of the hotline, which was a challenge raised by a participant based on experience of a similar initiative in Somalia, where uptake was low as people weren’t aware of the service. Another participant to mention a successful initiative run by the Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka, where labour-intensive community outreach around the hotline, although expensive, really paid off and made it a successful initiative.

When asked whether this ‘one stop shop’ hotline was really the right solution, Sarah Mace explained ‘We don’t know, as we’ve never tried this before, and many questions and challenges remain. But we have to try, and we’ll have to work out some of the issues that arise as we go along. There is a major need for better information that has been expressed by the displaced communities, and this call centre is an effort to respond to that gap in service.’

Findings and lessons learned from this pioneering inter-agency initiative will be shared over the coming months.

A recording of the online event stream is available here.

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