The role and importance of effective communication with crisis-affected people have grown significantly in recent years, driven by the proliferation of accountability initiatives within the humanitarian sector, the changing role of media development organisations as providers of humanitarian information and the explosion in information and communication technology (ICT) in crisis-affected countries. Eight years ago, the international humanitarian response to the Indian Ocean tsunami was widely criticised for its failure to communicate adequately with affected people and national and local actors. According to the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC), ‘poor information flow [was] undoubtedly the biggest source of dissatisfaction, anger and frustration among affected people’.+J. Telford, J. Cosgrave and R. Houghton, Joint Evaluation of the International Response to the Indian Ocean Tsunami: Synthesis Report, Tsunami Evaluation Coalition, 2006. Six years later, the Haiti earthquake response marked the first large-scale application of new technologies to enable dialogue between relief agencies and crisis-affected people, including crowd-sourcing and projects combining mobile phone, digital and radio technologies, demanding new forms of collaboration between the local media, technology companies and international humanitarian organisations.+A. Nelson and I. Sigal with D. Zambrano, Media, Information Systems and Communities: Lessons from Haiti. Report partly based on information gathered at a roundtable discussion on the media and communication response to the Haiti earthquake, Miami, 24 May 2010, organised by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Available at http:/www.knightfoundation.org/publications/media-information-system-and-communities-lessons-h.
The growing recognition of the importance of communication in disaster response has prompted an upsurge in discussions, publications and initiatives aimed at better understanding the potential of broadcast media and new technologies to improve how agencies communicate with their beneficiaries and, ultimately, enhance the quality and accountability of humanitarian assistance. This Network Paper reports on the work of one such initiative, infoasaid. Operated by two media development organisations, BBC Media Action and Internews, with funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID), infoasaid was established in 2010 to improve the quality of humanitarian responses by maximising the amount of accurate and timely information available to humanitarian responders and crisis-affected populations through enhanced communication between them in an emergency.
The project, which came to a close in 2012, had two main objectives:
- To strengthen the capacity and preparedness of the humanitarian system to respond to the information and communication needs of crisis-affected populations.
- To partner with aid agencies to help inform and support their communication response in emergencies.
Through partnerships with a wide range of actors in the humanitarian arena, including the humanitarian clusters,individual aid agencies, technology providers and the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network, infoasaid sought to improve messaging to, and dialogue with, crisis-affected populations in emergencies by mainstreaming communication across the humanitarian clusters, and providing bespoke technical support to individual agencies to strengthen their capacity and preparedness for delivering a communication response, including supporting the design, implementation and evaluation of communication responses.
This Network Paper examines the strategies infoasaid adopted to achieve these objectives, outlining what was done, how it was done, what the challenges were and what was learnt from the perspective of the project and its partners.