Communications as Aid rather than institutional tick-boxing

An interesting talk by Internews CEO Daniel Bruce on the potential problems of over-instrumentalising communications strategies during humanitarian crises, especially where the local media is not involved, let alone engaged.

The methodology of Communicating with Communities (CwC) is evolving, in conflict environments; new technology; operational partnerships for effective delivery, and in the ‘institutionalisation’ of communications in aid missions.

Ministers and sector leaders gathering for the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next year will give the subject of conmmunications more credence  in a social media connected world, and come up with a global strategy.

But Daniel questioned whether a perfect CWC model was possible, given the wildly varied ways information is consumed by different audiences and individuals in different contexts, and in different types of emergency.

Speaking at the Geneva forum of the Communications in Disaster Affected Communities network, he cited the ‘iron curtain’ between aid organisations and local media ten years ago, and how that curtain had been slow to come down.

He outlined anecdotal evidence of local media organisations in Nepal trying to develop humanitarian information services of their own but failing to get support from international agencies. Similarly, during the Ebola crisis in Liberia, a ‘media working group’ set up by humanitarian organisations failed to include representatives from the Liberian media.

The local Nepali media has voiced many national frustrations with the way the giant aid networks were operating in the country. In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan Phillipines media investigations into the way aid to their country was managed were initially rebuffed by the aid organisations themselves.

“When things go wrong shutters tend to come down, but that’s accountability and when it’s going wrong you have to be able to provide a response, and these recent examples say that there’s still a considerable way to go. The system has as got to have that readiness to take on challenges and be less self-referential.”

But Daniel also warned against the danger of over-instrumentalising communications in pursuit of adding accountability in aid provision. It was important, but not a tick-box solution to that issue, or limited to that particular problem alone. CWC was not an isolated solution to social mobilisation or so-called “behaviour change” communication either.

These are all things which go into the pot, he said, but it’s a much bigger, more nuanced complex jigsaw. “We are still seeing a tendency of the system to default to the instrumentalisation of media in crises, using the local media as a means to an end to getting key messages out, but not engaging with them.”

Video by CDAC via YouTube

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