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Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

Standing team members Hugh Earp (ECB Project) and Angela Rouse (CARE International) recently attended a talk on communication technology and accountability to crisis-affected populations. The event profiled two projects funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund which aim to improve NGO accountability to communities in crisis through the use of innovative communication technology.  Here, Angela gives a little background on the complaints mechanism that DRC is using in Somalia.

Piloting Accountability Systems for Humanitarian Aid in Somalia

In Somalia the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is seeking to address accountability in the context of remote management so as to enable meaningful beneficiary participation and strengthen the demand-side of local level governance and community-based organisations.  The organisation is using mobile phones, internet, on-line communities and social media to collect feedback from communities, all of which are mapped using the Ushahidi platform, first used to map reports of election violence in Kenya in 2010.  Community members are able to send a text message using their mobile phone with any feedback or complaint on DRC’s activities.  This text is payable at the normal, local rate which seems not to be a barrier to submitting an issue.  The SMS is received and reviewed by a dashboard administrator, who removes any identifying information for confidentiality purposes and posts the message to the map.  Have a look at the map here.  You can zoom in and then review complaints by location.   For example, on 19 March 2012 the complaint illustrated below was submitted – you will see the location mapped, the original complaint and the translation and – importantly – the follow up that was made in response.  Thinking back on tool 12 of the Good Enough Guide you’ll see this system ticks many boxes:

  • it is an accessible system provided you have access to a mobile, although there are also other ways in which complaints can be submitted, such as through agency staff
  • complaints are handled in a clear, systematic way that ensure each complaint receives a response and appropriate action
  • the complainant receives a text message confirming receipt of the complaint
  • it allows tracking of whether the complaint has been investigated and acted upon, or whether it is still pending
  • it helps to promote consistency: ensuring similar complaints receive a similar response
  • confidentiality is ensured
  • it allows learning: statistics and trends can be tracked and can inform future approaches and programming.

SMS feedback

More information on this project can be found here.

The second project that was presented was around using the radio to communicate with communities in an interactive way in Haiti.  Read more about it here: Mobile technology – listening to the voice of Haitians.

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Eating healthy is a virtue not many would dispute. But even though we all know that we should get a variety of nutritious foods every day to keep ourselves and our families healthy, the demands of daily life often help us rationalize dietary shortcuts. As one mother told me, “With all the work I have to do, I don’t have time to cook all these complicated recipes. I know we should eat more healthy food, but the kids don’t like it. They just want to eat the regular stuff.”

The sentiment is instantly relatable and one that could easily be heard in family households across the U.S. But it wasn’t a suburban American mother rationalizing her family’s habit of eating fattening foods. The explanation came from a farmer in a remote hamlet in Timor-Leste during a focus group discussion (FGD) about the high incidence of malnutrition in the impoverished country. Although a variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables are sometimes available and accessible in local markets—and in many cases growing unattended in natural areas around houses and farms—poor Timorese families often limit their meals to a repetition of starchy staples.

MAP: Sara Gonzalez, Carole Reckinger

The FGD was one of many conducted as a qualitative compliment to a midterm evaluation of a Food Security project being implemented by Mercy Corps. The FGDs were aimed at capturing unexpected feedback from beneficiaries. The regular evaluation measured progress toward program targets, which include increases in on-farm production and household incomes, reductions in post harvest loss, and the establishment of small businesses to support those efforts. By looking beyond the original targets and ensuring that the program is accountable to the communities it hopes to benefit, Mercy Corps learned about key food security issues it hadn’t been addressing—such as food preference and climate change—and added project activities to address the gaps.

I joined the AIM Standing Team in 2011 while working as M&E and Food Security Advisor with Mercy Corps in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. As a member of the Standing Team I’ve had the privilege to participate in engaging and well-designed workshops in both Jakarta and Casablanca. By Joining the Jakarta workshop I became an official Standing Team member, helping to advance Mercy Corps’ commitment to accountability and to the ECB consortium. Among the things we covered was how to sell accountability,” and, in fact, membership on the Standing Team itself has been an important lever to prioritize accountability. Charged with conducting the midterm evaluation in Timor-Leste, I was able reference the Standing Team, the blog, and the Good Enough Guide. And even though AIM materials are emergency focused, the food security project team saw the value of including open-ended feedback from beneficiaries in the study.

The workshop in Casablanca emphasized the fact that communication is an essential component to promote accountability and transparency. Communication in projects is not just about sharing information. It can also be used for trust building, conflict resolution, effective participation, and provision of psychosocial support. Participatory activity is better documented by photography and video, and they convey a human context that is impossible to capture any other way. After the workshop, I put a heavy emphasis on applying photography and video to Mercy Corps projects. I created a photo essay and video for a spice market development project in Eastern Indonesia, a photo essay and video for a food security project in Timor-Leste, and another video for an aquaculture project in Timor.

The final visual communication products made the voices and experiences of beneficiaries far more prominent in otherwise dry technical reports and presentations for donors and partners. More importantly it helped to improve understanding and buy-in of the project efforts among the communities, in the government, and even within the project team at Mercy Corps. Projects often have many disparate components, and the overall vision can be lost or confused. By using voices, stories, and images from the communities where we work to bring project activities together under a shared vision, understanding and buy-in is improved among all project stakeholders. When the vision is shared, relevant new ideas and feedback can converge to strengthen it.

In response to feedback from the community during the evaluation in Timor-Leste, Mercy Corps added activities to help farmers reduce risks from climate change—such as crop diversification—and to encourage household diet diversification. Both initiatives require that the community be willing to buy, cook, and eat food that they typically wouldn’t. Using research undertaken by UNICEF and Timor’s Department of Health, we created a cookbookof locally appropriate dishes. The dishes included vegetables that Mercy Corps has begun to support the seed replication for among project farmers, as well as tilapia fish—supported by an aquaculture development component of the project.

PHOTO: Tom Pfeiffer

To disseminate the recipes and ignite community interest, the project funded 50+ community food events where the books were made available to all. Each event included music by a local band and at least four recipes were cooked at each by community members and shared. Mercy Corps limited its presence in order to build community ownership of the events. The project video is entirely in the local language and includes the testimony of several community stakeholders. The video is shown at the food events and other community meetings, helping to communicate the vision of the project and solicit continued relevant feedback from the community.

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This blog post was submitted by Mariane Mathia, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer with CRS Jerusalem.  After discovering that accountability was being implemented across programs, but not in a unified manner, Mariane collected the following information, used it to conduct an internal workshop, and is now helping to implement an accountability strategy across all departments. Thank you Mariane for sharing your experience!

There are four simple steps to ensure accountability (the 4 Cs!):

1. Count: This step focuses on basic tracking of inputs and outputs through routine project control systems. These may include distribution records, warehouse registers, cash-for-work records, etc. They assure that the beneficiaries received the intended goods or services of the project or intervention.

2. Check: This step focuses on verification of content and process with the beneficiaries. It is about checking whether the outputs are appropriate and relevant and whether they will be effectively utilized per the intended purpose.

3. Change: This step focuses on improving interventions based on counts and checks, the intervention may need to be changed or adapted. The information should be reviewed by staff with program decisions made accordingly.

4. Communicate: This step focuses on consistent exchange of information. Consider the range of information needed by multiple stakeholders for timely information for decision making, and the importance of the accuracy of information. Both good and bad news should be delivered with the source of information, and an explanation if it is incomplete. Communication should be extensive and consistent with beneficiaries (men and women, old and young, different social and ethnic groups), government, other agencies, and donors throughout the life of the project.

Banner displayed at a CRS event

Means of Communication

At every CRS activity a banner is placed with information about CRS, its vision, mission and objectives. The information is presented in clear language (Arabic and English), formats, and media (announcements, flyers, etc.) in order to provide beneficiaries with timely, relevant and clear information.

Opportunities for involvement: Dates and locations of distributions are announced in city councils, mosques, and municipalities. On every distribution site a flyer is posted with contact information for beneficiaries to call if they have any complaints, questions, or comments about the distribution process.

In line to provide feedback at a CRS office

Dealing with complaints: Beneficiaries complain either by phone or come to the office. The Head of office or CRS coordinator asks them to fill a complaint form. The forms are studied and investigated with head of office in order to resolve such problems as complaints about a distributor, unavailable goods in distribution points, increasing prices, or bias in the distribution cycle.

Beneficiary Satisfaction: Beneficiaries are involved by filling the Beneficiary Satisfaction Forms during or after distributions. The form utilized in the surveying process gathers feedback from beneficiaries on the aid distribution, selection of beneficiaries, compatibility of the distribution points, treatment of beneficiaries during distribution, and the level of satisfaction of the commodities received. The information is used to inform the M&E Satisfaction Report. This report allows CRS to analyze beneficiary feedback to make appropriate changes to the intervention to improve the delivery of goods and services.

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Horn of Africa crisis: Food security situation (November-December 2011). Source: UNCS, FEWS NET, FSNAU, FAO, OCHA.

The drought in East Africa has affected an estimated 10 million people.  In July 2011, People in Aid, the Sphere Project, and HAP International called for greater quality and accountability in this response.  Under the umbrella of the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI), the three initiatives deployed to the Horn of Africa for nine weeks in order to support and advocate for quality and accountability in the humanitarian response, document strengths and gaps, and share good practices regionally, as well as globally.

The final report on this initiative raises important issues regarding not only the response in the Horn, but, when considered alongside similar findings from deployments to Haiti and Pakistan, issues pertaining to the state of global humanitarian response.  The most clear and critical overall finding?  There is a general need for better engagement with affected populations throughout the project cycle. 

Specific findings include:

  • The need to create special measures to access vulnerable groups
  • The need for a rights-based approach and ensuring that beneficiaries understand their rights and can hold organizations accountable for their actions. 
  • The importance of community-wide participation
  • Building resilience into program design
  • The need for coordination and collaboration in order to prevent duplication and uneven distribution of aid
  • Recruitment, staff management, and increased contextual knowledge of staff (and how the lack of contextual knowledge is a major barrier of accountability towards affected communities) continue to be issues
  • Establishment and awareness of complaint and response mechanisms

As evidenced in this report, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Interestingly enough, the report states that “most staff from HAP’s membership and People In Aid’s membership were unaware of the Standards and had not been made of aware of their organizations accountability commitments” (page 10 ).  Effectively engaging with communities throughout the project cycle is of paramount importance.  The Standing Team’s assistance in implementing accountability and impact measurement initiatives is critically important as we ensure higher quality humanitarian response globally. 

Please take a look at the Joint Standards Initiative report and let us know your thoughts!

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How do we communicate effectively when communication truly matters? How do we effectively design and deliver our message in times of crises? 

Communication is an integral part of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. Infoasaid is launching an e-learning course on communication called “Communication is Aid.” This course aims to raise awareness and build basic skills on how to communicate effectively in communities affected by crisis, focusing on both preparedness and skills to use during emergencies.

The course addresses themes including why communication matters, how to know your target audience, how to craft and adapt your message, and how communication is a two-way process. It is divided into five modules. The first two modules are introdcutory. The remaining three modules are interactive, scenario-based challenges and involve learners having to make communication decisions during an earthquake, a post conflict situation, and a hurricane/flood.

The course can be accessed from the website and will also be available on CD-ROM for those with limited internet access.  If you haven’t already, please check out the previously posted infoasaid video on the importance of communication in emergencies.  For more information on the course, please contact admin@infoasaid.org. 

If you do take the course, please post your thoughts here! We’d love to know about your experience!

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Last year, Tearfund embarked on a 6 month research project, funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, to explore accountability in remotely managed projects.  Stakeholders from INGOs, NGOs, UN agencies, donors and research organizations participated, producing the report Monitoring and accountability practices for remotely managed projects implemented in volatile operating environments.

Remote management approaches are becoming increasingly common in humanitarian operations.  Though many publications have covered this subject, research found that “there was limited evidence that creative processes had been applied to considering accountability through the lens of remote management.”  This report highlights several key areas in which more attention is needed; with many examples of good practices featured as well. 

 

Apparent, however, was that often this good practice was confined to individual organisations rather than its being shared more widely to promote learning and best practice. A significant portion of the information required is already out there; the challenge is to ensure that this good practice is shared and communicated in a way that it is practical and realistic.

Key Issues Identified

Decrease in program quality – Weak technical oversight – Poor communication between offices – Increased fraud and corruption – Inaccurate data – Limited capacity of personnel – Irregular access to beneficiaries – Increased security threats – Increased political/social pressure on local staff

Recommendations

Key recommendations fell into six different categories: establishing and delivering on commitments, staff competency, sharing information, participation, beneficiary feedback and complaints handling, and learning and continual improvement.  These recommendations included the following:

1.) Establish a beneficiary accountability focal person at the program head office and the local project office, and initiate a beneficiary accountability working group at a regional and/or country level, with local staff participation.  Ensure that there is sufficient time and preparation to develop contextually appropriate beneficiary accountability approaches for the remotely managed project.

2.) Increase resources for internal and external training, develop training programs to promote beneficiary accountability specific to the remote management context, and provide adequate follow-up after training.   Staff capacity is a significant issue for remotely managed projects.  The report states,

Staff capacity issues were often worse in remote management situations where senior programme staff were not based with local staff and could not provide day-to-day mentoring and capacity building opportunities. Staff training workshops represent an additional expense, requiring trainers to travel to the project location (which is not always possible in insecure environments), or requiring project staff to travel elsewhere for training.

Those programs, however, that switched from direct management to remote management were found to be better implemented, because training was done before the program head office was moved. 

3.) Provide regular opportunities for local staff to present findings related to beneficiary accountability practice (e.g. methods that work particularly well) to senior program management.

4.) Develop additional structures within the community to promote beneficiary participation.  Also, ensure that agreement is reached between senior management and local staff on the content of information shared with beneficiaries about project activities and safe and practical means of sharing this information.  Additionally, as in any humanitarian intervention, it is critical to develop complaint and response mechanisms.  In remote management situations, it is particularly important to make certain that this feedback and reporting system is supported by third-party verification (e.g. visits by senior national personnel; peer monitoring by other agencies; meetings at a secure location between beneficiary representatives and senior expatriate personnel).

5.) Consider whether it is practical and appropriate to meet with beneficiaries outside of a project implementation area, as remote meetings could involve significant risk.  In addition, conducting such meetings could lead to contact only with beneficiaries who are not necessarily representative of the wider beneficiary group.

These are just a few highlights.  We encourage you to read the entire report here for more information!

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We have been sharing a lot of stories from infoasaid in the past few months, but this video is too good not to highlight! As we have mentioned in previous blog posts, infoasaid, the DFID funded project being implemented by Internews and BBC Media Action, seeks to…

…improve the quality of humanitarian responses by maximising the amount of accurate and timely information available to both humanitarian responders and crisis-affected populations through enhanced information exchange between them in an emergency.
The following brief video is not only brilliantly animated, but also expresses clearly why communication is key in emergency situations.  It’s a lovely resource to pass on to colleagues.  Enjoy! 
 

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Standing Team member Emmanuel, World Vision’s Accountability, Monitoring and Evaluations Officer, brought to our attention this interesting accountability project featured in April on infoasaid.org

Through a sponsored 45 minute weekly show on local radio station Anguo FM and via messages sent to mobile telephones, communities are relayed information on issues ranging from how to spot signs of malnutrition in children to prices of livestock in the main local markets to a description of content on the latest food aid package along with date of delivery.

Emmanuel live on the radio!

When we spoke with Emmanuel, he stated that hosting this radio program forces him and his team to take accountability very seriously.  If he receives a complaint or feedback for change, and no action is taken, the community will continue to call back.  It is quite beneficial for the community, because they always know when, where and how to find him!

In regards to communication, Emmanuel states, “You go to a community and you give them the water tablets and they might or might not use them – or they might use them in the wrong way.  Sharing information is a critical to accountability.  If the beneficiaries have the right information they can make the right judgement for themselves.”

Read the full story here!

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The quite creative ECB Bangladesh consortium has made a video of a traditional Bangla skit, which includes songs about accountability in emergencies! The folk skit with songs is called a gomvira. Due to its ability to teach the audience in an entertaining way, gomvira has become quite popular in the development field. There are 2 main characters in the skit, a grandfather and a grandson. Generally one of these characters depicts a positive side of the issue while the other plays a negative role. Through a logical conversation, the positive character convinces the negative character in favor of the issue. This 30 minute video is well done, very entertaining and fun to watch! (It may take some time to load before being ready to play, so please be patient. It is worth the wait!).

In this skit, set in rural Bangladesh, the grandson explains to his grandfather the people’s rights in relation to an aid organization’s emergency response and how the agency will conduct the next emergency response with accountability. The grandfather, having had negative experiences with aid organizations, is skeptical of what his grandson says. Through the course of the gomvira, the grandson answers his grandfather’s many questions and removes his doubts.

 

The Story

The gomvira opens by the grandson telling the grandfather that the aid organization has told the community, including men, women, the blind, disabled, and the most vulnerable, the details of the relief project and that the people are going to be involved in the process, including the making of the beneficiary list. The distrustful grandfather believes what he has observed in the past: that only those who have good relations with the agency staff can get on the beneficiary list, while the most vulnerable do not receive any aid. The grandfather then realizes that if people have the information about the project, including how much they are to receive in aid, and if they are involved in the process, that they can then hold staff accountable. To address corruption by powerful people, individuals can complain anonymously and will not be retaliated against for complaint against the powerful.

In the past, the different needs of the varying groups in the community were not considered. Now, the grandson explains, the agency staff will hold separate discussions with men, women, children, the disabled, and the isolated and various ethnic groups to find out the unique needs of each. The aid organization will ensure that needs are met and expectations are fulfilled.

But in the end, the grandfather asks, “Why will the aid organization do all these things? It’s all their money; they can spend it like they want. Why do they need to talk to so many poor, illiterate people like us?”

The son responds, “You raised the most important question. No, they cannot spend the money as they wish. Getting assistance and living with dignity in floods, cyclones, and storm surge situations is the right of the people.”

“You mean to say getting assistance in such situations is our right?” queries the grandfather.

“It is our right and the duty of the responders to provide it to us,” responds the grandson.

They then sing: “Getting assistance in emergencies is the people’s right. If you have a complaint, don’t keep it in your mind. Tell someone.”

Enjoy!

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In this recent blog, we discussed a study and report on the communication efforts during the response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 and the cholera outbreak that began the following October. The report, written by Imogen Wall with Yves Gerald Chéry, is entitled Ann Kite Yo Pale: Let Them Speak: Best practice and lessons learned in communication with disaster affected communities: Haiti 2010 . Here we continue with some examples of communication with local media and local people during the response.

Agency Communication with Local Media

After the earthquake, there was a desperate need among the disaster-affected to receive and to provide information. International aid agencies worked mainly with international media, not the local media that was quite active after the quake. In general, local media found it difficult and frustrating to engage with humanitarian actors, as well as access international agencies due to the barriers of language.  Few staff of international agencies even long-established in Haiti spoke Kreyol. Local journalists could not access the UN base outside of the city to attend press conferences for the first few months following the natural disaster, and press releases and situation reports were not translated into French. Even a year after the quake, journalists were still finding it hard to work with humanitarian agencies.  The report states:

Given the lack of dedicated local communication staff, few organisations were prepared to spend any time going to local radio studios and giving interviews or explaining their work. Those that did, however, found that communicating did not just help fill the information vacuum among the affected population, it delivered considerable operational benefits.

Below are examples of aid agencies that benefited from engaging with local media:

World Food Program (WFP)

The WFP had to manage food distribution to more than a million people. After a chaotic first run, they introduced a voucher system and hired a local spokesperson, Fedrique Pierre, to explain the system to the local media and thus to the affected population. CDAC Haiti, a consortium of humanitarian agencies and media organizations that coordinate communication in emergency response, put WFP in touch with local radio stations. Mr. Pierre gave more than 150 interviews in his first month and became so popular that he was nicknamed ‘Mr. Rice.’

Because there was no systematized feedback mechanism, ‘Mr. Rice’ decided to give out his mobile number.  Hundreds of people called and texted him to relay their gratitude for the information or tell him which area lacked food. (SMS-based feedback mechanisms were quite common in the earthquake response). He created a spreadsheet on his computer to track all the information received on his phone, and WFP used such information in the operational and decision-making processes, “enabling WFP to respond quickly to any problems.”

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

The UNFPA hired a Haitian American spokesperson who spoke fluent Kreyol to work with local and international media. “He worked with the gender-based violence team to record and broadcast a series of public service announcements (PSAs) with advice for victims. Based on anecdotal feedback, UNFPA say the response to the PSAs helped convince the Police Nationale d’Haiti to step up their patrols in the camps.”

Jamil Simon

Agency communication with people

Due to high mobile phone usage, the people of Haiti were able to communicate with agencies unlike ever before. The ENDK radio show shared the phone numbers of agencies, and feedback was collected through phone calls and SMS. Few agencies established feedback systems in the early phase of the response. Those that did, however, did not find the flood of feedback unmanageable, as some agencies expected, and confirm that this feedback was invaluable, allowing them to gather real-time information on survivors needs.

Recommendations

The study recommended the following for humanitarian aid agencies:

“The humanitarian system and agencies need to recognise the importance of communication as a sector and as an essential aspect of successful operational delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

There is a need to:

  • Reform humanitarian funding criteria to include communication as a legitimate form of humanitarian assistance
  • Incorporate communication work into the project design and budget
  • Prioritize communication with affected communities at the cluster level, employ local communication staff
  • Develop a feedback system for the disaster-affected, explore SMS or web-based feedback systems
  • Coordinate communication to avoid duplication of efforts and provide consistent and accurate information

For more about communication in emergency response, see this blog, and to read more about the work of CDAC Haiti, click here.

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