Channels for Community Mobilization

Channels for Community Mobilization

Radio is a type of mass media that can reach wide audiences.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Can reach large audiences.
  • Is appropriate for communities with low literacy.
  • Is an effective means for reaching communities that do not have access to other mass media such as television or newspapers.
  • Can incorporate some interaction by doing call-in shows, SMS feedback, or open microphone programs.
  • Can be used for short, factual public announcements (appropriate in the initial phases of an emergency) or longer debates or serial dramas to address stigma and dominant norms in the later phases of the emergency.
  • Is a relatively cheap channel, especially if compared to television.
  • May be a good for emergencies caused by a highly contagious disease and people do not leave their homes.
  • Despite offering variations to include some interaction with the listeners, it tends to be a one-way channel and it is difficult to gauge how listeners are responding to the messages.
  • Despite having a wide reach, a radio may be controlled by one member of the family who decides what to listen to and when. As such, intended audiences not may be reached.
  • In some remote communities, using the radio may pose some logistical problems such as procuring fuel for the generator and ensuring appropriate maintenance of the equipment.
When to use radio:
  • Radio is effective for raising awareness and increasing knowledge of a particular issue. In an emergency, radio can be helpful to make the public aware of the facts relating to the emergency, to dispel rumors, and to promote simple protective behaviors.
  • Through the broadcasting of serial dramas, reality programming, and debates, radio can also start to challenge stigma and dominant norms that may be necessary in the later phases of an emergency.
  • Look for ways of making radio programs participatory. For example include competitions, encourage listeners to write-in, call-in or text-in, record programs in public for audiences to attend, or have open microphone sessions. A great way to leverage radio for community engagement is to organize facilitated radio discussion groups in communities where community members can reflect on the messages and actions that characters on that radio program had taken.
  • Contact the radio station after a program should have been aired to ensure it has actually occurred as planned.
  • Ensure that the key messages are summarized at the end of each program.
  • Where possible, involve beneficiaries and community members in the production and dissemination of programs. For example, community radio stations can interview health service providers, local traditional and religious leaders and role model community members who have been mentored in messaging and public speaking.
  •  If possible, consider recording some programs, such as public debates, in the community so that people can attend and feel more engaged.
  • Ensure programs are in the relevant local language or languages.

Interpersonal communication (IPC) involves a personal interaction with the intended audience that can be one-to-one, in small groups, large groups or in a forum. IPC can be delivered in various formats: in person, over the phone (e.g., a hotline) or via social media. In the case of community mobilization, IPC tends to be delivered in person. A range of individuals can facilitate IPC, including health providers, social mobilizers, peer educators or teachers. Facilitators should be supported through regular supervision and training, to ensure the delivery of quality activities and to assist those who may become emotionally affected the constant contact with people affected by the emergency.

Advantages Disadvantages
  •  Can be an effective means for promoting reflection on a specific topic, generating solutions and challenging resistant behaviors.
  • Provides a private setting for discussing sensitive topics and allowing participants to raise personal concerns.
  • Allows for targeting the intended audience alone.
  • Small group discussions can prompt social interactions that can lead to the creation of personal support network to face the emotional challenges linked to the emergency.
  • IPC facilitators can also act as focal points in the community for information on the issue causing the emergency.
  • The facilitators need to be trained properly for IPC to be effective.
  • Regular supervision of the facilitators and oversight is necessary to guarantee quality.
  • Repeated sessions and meetings are necessary to challenge norms and to start promoting changes in behavior.
  • Regular attendance may be a challenge for some individuals.
  • IPC may not be appropriate in emergencies that are caused by highly contagious infections.
  • Cannot be delivered effectively with mobile populations as they would be unable to reap the benefits of repeated meetings.
When to use IPC:
  • IPC is particularly useful to challenge dominant concerns relating to an issue. It provides a forum to share key information, address fears linked to the emergency, dispel rumors, and generate coping strategies.
  • As IPC allows for the selection of an intended audience, it can be used to address behaviors that affect specific groups of individuals.
  • Where possible, support facilitation using visual or audio aids.
  • Consider working with community groups to develop action plans or roadmaps that lead to optimal health behaviors.
  • Consider organizing listening groups during a radio program addressing the emergency to reinforce the messages of the program.
  • Ensure that facilitators are adequately trained, supervised and supported to deliver high quality activities.
  • Set up a system to support facilitators who may become emotionally affected by being in regular contact with people affected and possibly traumatized by the emergency.
  • Have a system in place for facilitators to refer to when they are unable to answer questions or deal with a situation.
  • Make communication interactive, stimulate discussion and encourage participants to share their concerns and ideas. Avoid lectures and one-way communication.

Community-Based Surveillance is the organized and rapid capture of information about events and cases that are a potential risk to public health. In an emergency, the information being captured would relate directly to the outbreak and can include rumors, detection of particular symptoms or new cases, and monitoring of behaviors. Information gathering can occur through formal channels such as established reporting systems, or it can occur through informal channels such as the media and anecdotes from community members. Community based surveillance generally involves selecting volunteers, who are knowledgeable about their community and its structures, to act as monitors.

Monitors are trained to detect and report any event that can indicate a risk factor, such as the presence of a disease or the introduction of rumors. Monitors can also alert community members to the presence of a problem and share information on protective behaviors.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Promotes active community participation and increases ownership.
  • Empowers collective action.
  • Can detect promptly issues that need to be addressed through communication activities.
  • Requires appropriate training of community monitors.
  • Monitors need to detect triggers and signs with a high degree of accurately.
  • If the surveillance system is not established in a transparent and participatory way, it can lead to suspicion and mistrust among community members.
When to use community based surveillance:
  • Community based surveillance is an important part of community engagement and can be utilized from the initial phases of an emergency.
  • It can help the health system by identifying potential cases early, and it can help communication activities by detecting rumors and harmful behaviors. This is important at all stages of an emergency.
  • Identify and select the community-based monitors according to the required protocol and in partnership with leaders.
  • Ensure that the monitors have in-depth knowledge of their community, its structures and its inhabitants, and that they are trusted members of the community.
  • Be transparent about the selection of monitors and their roles and keep communities informed of what they are doing to reduce mistrust.
  • Develop a list of clear events and triggers for the monitors to beware of. Triggers could be signs of illness among target populations, people traveling from highly affected areas or engaging with particular high risk practices for example.
  • Create well-defined information flows and reporting systems to guarantee prompt referral of any case or relevant information.

Mobile Phone Technology involves using a mobile phone platform to share information relating to a specific topic. It can include one-way communication with the user receiving important information such as lifesaving practices in an emergency, or it can be developed in a way that the user can report information or ask specific questions. Examples of these mobile phone technologies include: SMS (text messages), RapidSMS: RapidPro (, and Ureport ( Read about how RapidPro has been used in Liberia to help fight Ebola at the end of this section.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Allows for the delivery of rapid, real-time information to a large number of people.
  • Can connect community members to services.
  • Allows for information to be sent at any time of day or night.
  • Can be a private, confidential way of accessing users.
  • Allows users to share information of what is happening in their communities
  • Is dependent on audiences having access to a phone (or the resources to provide them and/or airtime) and on the existence of a functioning and reliable mobile phone network.
  • Does not allow for much interaction with the user, although new applications (such as RapidPro and Ureport) are beginning to improve on this aspect
When to use mobile phone technology:
  • Mobile phone technology is particularly useful when vital information needs to be shared with the public quickly. This can include informing them of signs and symptoms relating to a disease and what to do or where to go should these occur.
  • It is also useful for collecting real-time data.
  • Assess the reach of mobile phones in the country/areas of interest.
  • If multiple mobile phone providers are available, try to make a deal with all networks or select the one with the greatest reach.
  • Where possible, require those who join the service to provide their sociodemographic data as this will help you monitor the audiences you are reaching.
  • Review existing platforms for mobile phone technology to save time and money.
  • Consider using voice recordings rather than messaging in areas where literacy levels are low

Using RapidPro to Fight Ebola in Liberia

In Liberia, UNICEF and the Ministry of Health launched an application available on RapidPro called mHero (Mobile Health Worker Ebola Response and Outreach) to support efforts to fight the Ebola epidemic. mHero is used to report on new cases; broadcast messages about care and prevention; share training information. Further the application also allows for real-time coordination between the ministry and the health workers. For more information go to