Select and Train Community Spokespeople and Mobilizers
Part of the discussion with stakeholders in your introductory meeting with the community will explore potential avenues for supporting individuals and families to engage in protective behaviors that can manage the health emergency or eventually stop the outbreak. One effective way of doing this is to have a pool of trained spokespeople and mobilizers.
A spokesperson should be a trusted individual of authority who acts as a point of reference and announces accurate and timely information about the emergency. Spokespeople generally conduct correspondence with the media, such as radio stations and the press, and communicate with the public about the emergency. They liaise regularly with the national and subnational communication mechanism to provide feedback on what is happening on the ground and to obtain information to share with the public.
Acting on behalf of others, spokespeople should be loyal to the issue being addressed and act as role models for what is being promoted. Often, spokespeople are admired leaders, members of respected authorities and institutions or popular national figures.
A mobilizer is a person who can act as a catalyst. Mobilizers tend to work more directly with the community than spokespeople, providing information and support, engaging with community members in dialogue, monitoring how they respond to the outbreak and messages, and corresponding with the communication cells so as to continuously revise activities based on need. Mobilizers should be trusted members of the community.
Identifying and Selecting Spokespeople and Mobilizers
When identifying mobilizers and spokespeople, consult with local, religious and traditional leaders, and consider existing networks of community mobilizers, such as Community Health Workers (CHWs) or community mobilizers associated with local, national or international organizations. Individuals acting as spokespeople and mobilizers for existing structures are likely to have already earned the trust of community members and can be effective in imparting messages and delivering activities relating to the outbreak.
Utilizing existing spokespeople and networks of community mobilizers who have already earned the community’s trust may save you time and grant a trustworthy entry point into the community. Ensure, however, that you always liaise with gatekeepers and important stakeholders to follow community protocol when selecting your spokespeople and mobilizers.
The Qualities of Spokespeople and Mobilizers
Spokespeople and mobilizers need to have similar qualities to implement their work effectively. Some of these qualities are intrinsic, while others can be acquired through training. When selecting spokespeople and mobilizers it is crucial to ensure that the person is a trusted and influential source of information in the community and that he or she is able to act as a role model for the issue and the behaviors being promoted.
For more information about the qualities and characteristics of a mobilizer, see the Sample Job Description.
Exercise: Selecting Mobilizers and Spokespeople
Worksheet 3.2 has been developed to support you in the process of identifying appropriate spokespeople and mobilizers. It presents a list of desired characteristics for spokespeople and mobilizers, including skills, attitudes, knowledge and possible roles they can play in the community. The worksheet, completed in partnership with leaders and stakeholders in the community, can then be used to guide the process of identifying spokespeople and mobilizers as per community protocol.
- Know the protocol for selecting spokespeople and mobilizers within the community of interest. For example, selection may occur through an open election process where all community members are invited to vote, or it may be done through community leaders only.
- Link with existing associations, civil society and NGO networks that already utilize spokespeople and mobilizers, and assess how they are perceived by the community.
- Consider networks both within the health sector, such as CHWs, and outside of the health sector. Examples may include religious and traditional leaders, hygiene promoters in water sanitation programs, community mobilizers for gender equality, agricultural extension workers, micro-credit groups, educational networks such as teachers, peer educators and village development committees.
- Identify the trusted sources of information within the community and include them in your mobilizer and spokespeople network.
- Assess what the main characteristics of trusted sources of information are, and use the information to help guide the process of selecting your spokespeople and mobilizers.
- Include members of minority and marginalized groups and gender parity in your network of spokespeople and mobilizers as this will help reach vulnerable individuals. If you are unable to access members of these groups, try to identify and select people who are credible and trusted by them.
Spokesperson and Mobilizer TrainingOnce the spokespeople and mobilizers have been selected, you will need to consider their training needs. Below is a list of areas to consider for capacity building; however, we acknowledge that specific training needs have to be assessed for individual situations.
- Training on the issue that is causing the emergency. This should contain correct, factual information on the issue and protective behaviors to halt the spread of the outbreak. Attention should be given to how to convey potentially complex information in simple, understandable language, using illustrations where appropriate.
- Training in behavior change communication, facilitation and listening skills to promote dialogue and exchange, rather than one-way communication.
- Training in public speaking and talking to the media to make official announcements or raise awareness among large groups.
- Community mobilization skills that may include community entry activities, recruiting community members and getting them engaged and involved.
- Project management training that may also include managing time, planning, surveillance and monitoring of activities.
- Training in ethical principles and guidelines when working with communities. This should include the principles of respect, impartiality, confidentiality, accuracy and do no harm. More information about these five principles.
Mobilizers and spokespeople who are trained in essential areas can then deliver activities and share messages in consultation with the communication cells. Some basic recommendations that can guide their work are summarized in the table below:
Do’s and Don’ts of Mobilizers and Spokespeople
|Promote and sustain community engagement
|Deliver one-off or ad hoc activities
|Empower communities by engaging them in collective, constructive dialogue to develop action plans
|Use power over others, in particular over vulnerable community members
|Reinforce messages using multiple channels
|Create divisions between people and groups
|Include a range of people, groups and institutions, as well as vulnerable and marginalized groups
|Exclude certain groups or individuals
|Stimulate critical thinking and challenge dominant practices and norms that may be harmful
|Deliver top-down information
|Adopt participatory, two-way communication with community members
|Lecture, preach or teach individuals and groups with one-way communication
|Acknowledge the community’s contribution to ending the outbreak
|Tell people what you think rather than what you know to be correct
|Address stigma and rumors
|Make up information you are unsure of
|Inform the community regularly on how the outbreak is evolving
|Judge, blame or shame any group or individual
|Provide factually correct information
|Act in isolation
|Be compassionate, empathetic and trustworthy
|Go beyond the scope of your responsibilities and provide support or information that does not relate to your duties or expertise
|Tell the truth
|Use jargon and complicated, scientific terms
|Offer follow-up on questions and issues that cannot be addressed immediately
|Disregard cultural norms, practices and expectations
|Illustrate points with examples or stories
|Address people in ways that are not considered appropriate for the context
|Respect cultural and traditional values
|Ignore to update community members on how the outbreak is progressing
|Dress appropriately according to the context