Over the last few years, humanitarian agencies have been coming around to the notion that communication is aid. As a result, we have seen the formation of specialist working groups or inter-agency initiatives with a specific focus on communication with disaster-affected communities in emergency responses, such as Typhoon Bopha in the Philippines and Iraq in 2014. Although these were positive steps forward, it seemed to take weeks – even months – to get the platforms off the ground; far too long to keep people in the dark.
Earlier projects like infoasaid demonstrated that communicating with affected communities could improve the quality of humanitarian assistance, giving
the international community impetus to do more. This was reflected in DFID’s Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP), which provided an opportunity to take this area of work forwards. Under the DEPP, CDAC Network members tested setting up working groups in different countries. These inter-agency platforms were not only designed and implemented to strengthen national preparedness capacity for communication and community engagement but were also structured to be operational and ready to respond. A cohort of response staff, who have created a network of relationships, are now able to collaborate and coordinate joint actions, and can switch from ‘preparedness’ to ‘response’ mode when a disaster strikes.
Shongjog, the working group in Bangladesh has blazed a trail for others to follow by embedding communication and community engagement in the
Rohingya refugee response and recent floods in a way that has never been seen before. The group has successfully launched vital resources like the message library and built a network of radio journalists and volunteers ready to issue life-saving information to communities when needed. The working group in the Philippines is also pioneering high standards in communication and community engagement. One of the group’s successes is the innovative partnership it formed with the private sector. Consequently, humanitarian actors are now participating in response simulation exercises with private sector actors. South Sudan has proved to be more of a test environment than an established working groups because of the fragile ongoing security situation and related coordination challenges.
Over a three-year period the working groups have achieved many successes and encountered plenty of challenges. They have generated a tremendous amount of learning among all the stakeholders involved. This is explored in the report, accompanied by the various tools that have been developed along the way (available under the website's resources section). It makes for an informative read and is a valuable and practical resource for those involved in communication and community engagement and inter-agency working groups.
The project’s achievements certainly stand out thanks to all those involved, particularly the organisations that took on lead roles in the working groups and were instrumental in taking many of the initiatives forward.
This level of investment in national platforms and capacity strengthening has driven progress in the sector. We look forward to building on and replicating this practice to create operational national platforms in every high-risk country. This will be a big leap forward to ensuring we listen to the people we seek to serve in each and every response, and involve them in the decisions that affect their lives.