Communicating with communities to ensure accountability and transparency

17 October 2016
27-years-old Haneen Atallah is speaking to an UNRWA beneficiary in her home in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza. © 2016 UNRWA Photo by Rushdi Al-Saraj

Communications with Communities (CwC) is an approach within the field of humanitarian response that helps to meet the information and communications needs of people affected by crisis. Through CwC, organizations provide people greater access to the information they need and ensure that the voices of affected persons are heard and taken into account in decision-making processes related to the provision of humanitarian services.

Building on existing community engagement practices within its programmes, and CwC work through the 2014 conflict, approximately one and a half years ago the UNRWA Communications Office in Gaza established a designated Outreach and CwC team. The team has piloted various projects related to CwC, advocacy, awareness, and outreach campaigns. For example, the planning and supervision of the UNRWA food basket outreach campaign - including information sessions for and with front line staff and the production of communications material such as an animation video that explains the food basket and a cooking show with healthy recipes based on the ingredients of the food parcels, both targeting the refugee community.

To listen to and promote the voices of Palestine refugees, the team also implemented a story writing workshop with selected UNRWA students in an established journalism club, encouraging them to express themselves using their imagination.

Additionally, the team recently launched the 'real lives, real stories' advocacy campaign against the blockade on Gaza, and its 50 voices for 50 days campaign in 2015 – both of which help to amplify the voices of the community.

Through consultation processes such as focus groups, interviews and surveys, the outreach team ensures that beneficiaries are involved in the development of all of its communications products, e.g. through inputs in scripts, testing of fact sheets, and feedback to video productions, among others.

27-year-old Haneen Atallah works as an UNRWA CwC officer in Gaza. She believes that the main goal of CwC is to ensure accountability and transparency in services, and to hear and respect the voices and opinions of Palestine refugees in Gaza. Recently Haneen participated in the “lifeline communications training” with BBC Media Action – organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – which helped her to further build her skills in understanding and implementing CwC projects in cooperation with Gaza media outlets, especially through radio programmes, which allow for two-way dialogue, and which UNRWA has utilized during times of emergency. 

“It is important to understand that people have a right to accessible and concise information, and that the timing and channel of this information can save lives,” she further explained. “CwC is communications for people, not about people; it is different from traditional humanitarian communications such as visibility or public information, because it’s also about listening and two-way communication,” she added.
While many humanitarian organizations try to apply CwC only during crises, the UNRWA team includes CwC elements in projects and programmes at all times – before, during, and after emergencies.
“Our work is very versatile; it ranges from focus groups and community outreach meetings, to the production of videos and printed material with community input, to the organization of story-telling workshops to amplify voices. For our activities, we work together with various different UNRWA programmes and front line staff,” Haneen said. 

To combine forces and share experience and expertise, the UNRWA CwC team also co-chairs together with Oxfam the first Gaza-based CwC/accountability working group – involving various local and international organizations – with a strong focus on internally displaced persons and their information and communications needs.