NORCAP/IOM Communication with Communities specialist Fernanda Baumhardt at an urban spontaneous settlement of Pedernales, one of the most affected towns of the M7.8 earthquake, supporting MIES (Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion) during a community dialogue on government’s emergency programs. The goal was to go beyond socialization, that mostly delivers information, and establish a two-way communication session between community members and MIES representative. 
(Manabi, Ecuador, May 2016, photo taken by a community member.)
NORCAP-deployee and communication with communities expert Fernanda Baumhardt (left) in conversation with representatives from a local community affected by the 2016 earthquake in Ecuador. (Photo: NORCAP)

Communication with communities

Published 06. Jul 2016|Edited 13. Jul 2016
Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, emergency responders have become increasingly aware of the importance of providing information to affected communities.

When disaster strikes, people need food, shelter, water and safety. They also need information and they need to be able to communicate – with each other and with those trying to help them. Meeting the information and communication needs of people affected by crisis, commonly known as communicating with communities (CwC), is increasingly recognised as an important part of humanitarian response.

NORCAP has deployed communication experts for several years, but the need to focus on specialised communication with communities was one of the main lessons learned from the Ebola crisis in 2014. 

In 2015 NORCAP formed a collaboration with the network Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities (CDAC) to offer a range of appropriately qualified, experienced and trained communication personnel who can deploy to any emergency and contribute towards more effective humanitarian action. 

First stop: Greece

NORCAP deployed a specialised communications with communities team to a humanitarian crisis for the first time in December 2015. The need for information and communication among communities affected by the refugee crisis in Europe was recognised as one of the main gaps in the early stages of the emergency response. In a constantly changing environment, it is challenging for migrants, refugees and host communities to access reliable information about everything from registration and asylum procedures to family reunification, medical help and where to buy a sim card. 

"We always say information is protection. And there's nothing more important than protection in any emergency. You can have all the good systems, ideas, mandates and policies in the world, but if you do not communicate them to those you are supposed to protect, there's no point in having them in the first place", says Virginia M. Moncrieff, who headed the first communications with communities team in Greece. 

The team has visited transit sites on several islands and has helped provide information on practical and legal matters, and more serious issues such as gender-based violence and trafficking. They have also developed trainings and build the capacity of local organisations and authorities to respond to communications needs among the refugees.

NORCAP works closely with United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to make sure the project is responsive to the flexible nature of the crisis and to the communication needs of the different people targeted. 

You can have all the good systems, ideas, mandates and policies in the world, but if you do not communicate them to those you are supposed to protect, there's no point in having them in the first place
Virginia M. Moncrieff, NORCAP CwC team leader

What do experts do?

NORCAP communication with communities experts are deployed at the request of a Humanitarian Country Team, a humanitarian organisation (UN-partner or INGO) or national disaster management authority, to:

  • Undertake appropriate assessments of communities’ information and communication needs to inform the humanitarian needs overviews, strategic response plans and programmes;
  • Advocate for and coordinate the development of an appropriate information and communication for communities strategy and operational plan, or implement the activities to achieve the strategy;
  • Promote community engagement throughout the response to ensure that crisis-affected people are equal partners in, and agents of, their own recovery;
  • Ensure that the voices of communities – including the marginalised and vulnerable – are identified and amplified through consultation and dialogue;
  • Identify and build upon local capacities to ensure that existing information and communication channels are complemented, promoting community recovery and resilience;
  • Forge partnerships among humanitarian actors to improve the quality and effectiveness of a response through the pooling of resources and experiences; 
  • Generate evidence and learning to inform future programming of communicating with communities’ activities.

Experts are deployed through the existing humanitarian architecture and reinforce it by providing additional coordination and technical capacity to ongoing cluster or agency-specific initiatives. This is to ensure that the overall communication response is as coordinated and complete as possible. Deployment to individual agencies is also possible.