Identify and Access Communities

As indicated in the rapid needs assessment (Unit 2), communities most affected by the emergency may be found in some geographical areas only, or spread across the country.

In either case, when entering a community, it is essential to know the national and subnational protocols, both official and traditional. This knowledge will provide insight into who should be approached first in each community. This will likely be the local authorities and the traditional and religious leaders; however, ensure that you explore the government and the traditional systems accurately so as to follow the expected procedures when entering a community.

General guidelines for entering a community are listed below. Please note that these are general and you must verify expectations within your particular setting:

  • Follow established protocol for working in communities. The Government plays a significant role in working with communities. You usually have to seek approval at the district, regional or county levels to enter communities. You might need to establish a service level agreement or memorandum of understanding prior to entering or beginning work in a community.
  • Approach the key leaders, the gatekeepers of that community who have the ability to hamper or support your communication activities.
  • In consultation with these key leaders and gatekeepers, identify the other important stakeholders who need to be brought on board for community mobilization. Consider local authorities, the health sector and related services, local associations and NGOs, as well as other influential individuals. These may be popular figures and charismatic personalities.

  • Invite all identified stakeholders to an agreed location in the community and discuss the emergency, key facts that relate to the spread of the outbreak, important protective behaviors and the consequences of not being engaged in the emergency response.
  • Explore with stakeholders how to move forward to stop the outbreak. Ensure that all discussions are participatory, that all members feel comfortable to ask questions and share ideas.
  • As part of your discussion on how to move forward, identify community members who can act as spokespeople and mobilizers. Be sure to consider existing networks of mobilizers that are attached to local or international organizations and to health centers.

Exercise: Analyzing the Problem

Worksheet 3.1 provides some questions that can guide discussion during your initial meetings with the community. It aims to highlight how the problem is perceived by the community and the barriers and facilitators that exist to adopting protective behaviors. The resulting information will help inform community mobilization and behavior change activities.

Participatory approaches are helpful to gain an understanding of how the community perceives the issue, the barriers and facilitators that exist, and how and where community members can be reached. A Sample Job Description, Ethical Principles and List of Community Mobilization Activities provide other tools that can guide participatory discussions to inform your interventions, and references for further resources can be found at the end of this I-Kit.

Please note that some of the worksheets in this section are accompanied by completed examples. The completed examples will likely include information about an emergency that during an actual event might not be immediately available. This was done to illustrate the full range of information to inform a strategic communication response. As more data becomes available, update this worksheet.