Community engagement was a standout theme at this year’s Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week (HNPW), when more than 1,500 humanitarian practitioners from around the globe converged in Geneva.
At one of the side-events organised by OCHA, UNICEF, IFRC and the CDAC Network, partners of the Communication and Community Engagement Initiative, participants gathered to hear field staff openly share successes and challenges in coordinated community engagement with global colleagues, standby partners and donors.
In this video, Jon Bugge, consultant and Field CwC Working Group Coordinator in Coz’s Bazar, provided frank reflections on communication and community engagement in the Rohingya response via video: “we didn’t do it well enough, and we didn’t do it fast enough”. He called for better systems to deploy qualified staff, better delineation between coordination and technical work and more predictable structures for preparedness.
He noted there was no technical capacity for the coordination role and the importance of advocacy from the beginning of a response for inclusion of communication and community engagement in sector response plans. While the right people were coming to the working group meetings, there lacked that breadth of knowledge on how to communicate and engage communities in a rapidly evolving emergency. He cautioned that indeed too much attention was given to whom would take credit for the activities undertaken rather than rolling out the activities themselves. He called for a clear distinction between coordination and operations and especially being clear about the role of the coordinator: "The coordinator needs to be an independent, neutral and impartial observer and without that they are not able to broker partnership and to look at defining strategy and engaging in some of the resource mobilisation that is needed. To try to make people double-hat means that they can do neither job well." And when it’s an L3 emergency, both jobs need to be done as well as they can be.
He advised the Communication and Community Engagement Initiative to go out and work with the existing humanitarian country and senior management teams to explain what it means to be a priority country for the Initiative. What does communication and community engagement mean to them at the country level and how can it help improve the response. In those high priority countries, those agencies should have a commitment to deploy someone of significant experience for the duration of the L3 emergency to help both advocate for the issue within their organisation but also to be the focal person within the working group so that we can have some consistency of quality and from the very onset of an emergency the capacity to start implementing. He observed that there will always need to be global level meetings and global advocacy and we need to balance this with having enough boots on the ground who have the technical expertise to do the job.