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Covid-19: a watershed moment for collective approaches to community engagement?

Briefing/policy papers

Written by Oliver Lough, Kerrie Holloway

Hero image description: Hand-washing education to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Nairobi Image credit:Trocaire Image license:CC BY-NC-ND

Effective communication and community engagement (CCE) is a critical component of the response to Covid-19 in humanitarian settings. CCE has a vital role to play in supporting affected people to make informed decisions, manage risk, and highlight their evolving needs and priorities.

Awareness of CCE’s centrality to the Covid-19 pandemic is already leading to a surge in funding and interest in humanitarian settings. However, careful thought is required on how to address the new challenges it poses, including reduced access to affected populations (particularly marginalised groups) and more complex coordination environments.

Collective approaches to CCE can add value in the Covid-19 response by ensuring the right actors are working in the right configuration to deliver the best results, reducing duplication while increasing effectiveness. But, to date, attempts at collective CCE have experienced a number of challenges: CCE is yet to be well-integrated into both humanitarian responses and emergency preparedness, and it is not always easy to determine what configuration of approach is the right ‘fit’ for a given crisis.

To strengthen collective approaches to CCE, this briefing note recommends that they must:

  • have well-defined objectives, a clear relationship to the rest of the response and strong links to key decision-making processes;
  • be well-resourced, supported by dedicated staff and funded in ways that support collective action;
  • be inclusive of a wide range of actors, make space for locally-driven, bottom-up approaches and foster a sense of common ownership to ensure buy-in;
  • ensure that affected populations have multiple channels for two-way dialogue that include the most marginalised.