We all have things to say and we believe that what we have to say is the most important. Organizations tend to do the same: they have an agenda of things to report, they publish them and claim to have effectively communicated.
In the sphere of international organizations, NGOs or public institutions working in the wider world of human rights and particularly on issues related to human mobility, responding appropriately to the needs of affected populations must be the objective of everything that is done— it is vital to avoid institutional monologue. Whether working in a capacity building approach, public policy or direct assistance approach, putting affected populations at the centre of the intervention is the only way to work efficiently and sustainably.
There are different theoretical and practical approaches to guide this process, including Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) and Communication with Communities (CwC). These terms are often combined or interchanged with community engagement, humanitarian communication, development communication, risk communication and community engagement (RCCE), among others. (More information here).
Despite the different approaches that can be used to work on the issue, there are some common elements of how communication can be understood and worked on to guide towards more participatory and strategic approaches:
1. Communication as a right
Access to the necessary information, at the right time and in the right language, is a fundamental human right that can help save lives. Without information, communities cannot access services, know the risks of a context or make informed decisions. Trafficking and smuggling networks, for example, use rumours and misinformation to deceive people. Understanding and positioning that communication is as vital as food, water, shelter and medicines is the first step.
2. Communication as a process and not as a product
Generally in organizational dynamics, communication is seen as a reactive process in daily work and is not seen as a proactive or strategic element. Communication is reduced to the creation of communication products, and in issues as complex as migration this approach is vital. Decisions related to people's migration will hardly be impacted by an isolated communication product, it requires processes that contemplate a diversity of factors.
3. Evidence-based communication
Communication on migration should be based on the information needs of the target audience and not on the agenda of the organizations. Even in emergency situations, the first step should be to assess needs. All decisions of substance and form should be based on knowledge and inclusion of the population and all variables related to their communication needs, access to information channels and capacities to be part of the activities and solutions.
4. Inclusive, appropriate and participatory communication
A proper analysis of the population and its dynamics is key for communication to be respectful and contextualized. Communication must effectively address the needs of different groups and diversify distribution channels and formats, particularly when dealing with populations on the move and/or in conditions of vulnerability. It is essential to ensure understanding and respect for local language, cultures and customs, for which pre-validation and participatory product development activities are recommended.
5. Two-way communication
Putting target populations at the centre of any intervention is only possible when there is a planned and conscious effort to maintain a dialogue. This implies collective mechanisms to seek their opinions so that people always have the opportunity to inform, influence, comment and criticize actions, projects and services. It is important to go beyond having a suggestion box or a Facebook profile and really promote as part of the daily work an active listening with the populations. Find here resources to work on feedback mechanisms and rumor management.
6. Transparent communication
It is important that organizations and institutions are understood as actors in the community ecosystem and the general context, never as the centre of everything. From there, work should be done to ensure that the population has transparent knowledge about the role, objectives and limitations of the organization. This transparency will be rewarded with trust, which is the basis of any bond.
7. Coordinated communication
Everything communicates! Whether it is the information display or the treatment at a service counter, organizations should not separate what they say in their communication products from what they say with their behaviour. The coordination between what is said formally and informally, literally and implicitly is key to effective communication processes at the end of the day.
These 7 ways of approaching the issue will help you transform communication into a valuable asset to achieve your objectives. Finally, to assess the extent to which your projects or activities incorporate participatory approaches you can use the CwC/AAP Marker conducted by the Office of the Special Envoy of the IOM Director General for the Regional Response to the Situation in Venezuela (2021).