Set Up and Operationalize a Coordination System

To ensure that communication is integrated into the overall national response mechanism, and that SBCC activities are coordinated effectively, it is advisable to set up a communication response committee made up of the stakeholders identified through the identification and mapping exercises (Worksheets 1.1 and 1.2).

Wherever possible, this committee should result from existing communication technical working group (TWG) structures, as these represent a network of relevant stakeholders. This coordination body would be involved in all communication preparedness activities such as mapping, formative research, community mobilization and message development. You can find out more about these steps in Units 2, 3 and 8 of this I-Kit respectively. Should you identify the need to set up a communication TWG prior to forming a communication response committee, you can find sample terms of references to guide the process at:

Recommendations for Setting Up and Coordinating a Communication Response Pillar

Below is a series of recommendations to help you form and coordinate a communication response pillar. The tips are divided into three areas: (1) composition of the communication pillar, (2) role of the communication pillar and (3) effective functioning of the communication pillar. Worksheet 1.3, which follows this section, provides a checklist that will help you ensure that key procedural considerations are addressed when setting up and managing a communication pillar.

The communication pillar is the central coordinating body for the risk communication and emergency communication response at the national level. It liaises and coordinates closely with the national emergency response mechanism. Importantly, it maintains continuous contact with both the national response mechanism and the systems at district/local level for ongoing monitoring of the emergency response and feedback from the communities.

Composition of the Communication Pillar

The composition of the communication pillar can vary depending on the context; however, the points below provide some guidance as to the roles and representation within a communication pillar.

  • Identify an organization to chair the subcommittee. The communication pillar should be co-chaired by an international agency and a government partner.
  • Select any number of organizations that deal with communication, social mobilization, health promotion, health advocacy, civil society/peacebuilding and SBCC, or that are concerned with communication-related issues affecting the emergency.
  • Include local media.
  • Include representatives from the community, such as selected spokespeople, and religious or local leaders.

For more information about the types of organizations to include, refer to the previous section “Identifying Current and Potential Stakeholders” and to your completed Worksheet 1.1.

Role of the Communication Pillar

The roles of the communication pillar are likely to be diverse, to vary depending on the context, and to evolve as the emergency progresses. The list below highlights some key areas that the emergency communication pillar may address with sample activities:


  • Assess and identify relevant stakeholders regularly. After the initial group has been formed, continually assess whether other stakeholders should be engaged to enhance SBCC efforts.
  • Identify and select credible spokespeople from the community to ensure a continuous two-way communication process with the beneficiaries. More about selecting credible spokespeople can be found in “Unit 3: Community Mobilization.”
  • Appoint media focal persons to monitor press and to disseminate agreed-upon talking points.
  • Coordinate and share research and rapid assessments that address culture, practices and behaviors that affect the emergency.
  • Coordinate all SBCC initiatives to maximize reach and rapid dissemination of accurate information.
  • Set up and coordinate a telephone emergency helpline.

Community Mobilization & Action

  • Advocate for changes in policy and procedures, if necessary, to support the outbreak response.
  • Develop a social mobilization and communication strategy with an action plan, and share responsibility for its implementation among partners.
  • Engage individuals and communities through champions, door-to-door campaigns, dissemination of materials, discussions within community groups, and other community mobilization initiatives. More about this can be found in “Unit 3: Community Mobilization.”
  • Use local and national spokespersons and a wide range of media such as print, radio and other relevant broadcasts.

Message Development & Dissemination

  • Develop, pretest and disseminate messages and communication materials.
  • Develop guides with key messages for different audience groups.
  • Authorize any materials developed by other partners to ensure proper coordination, message harmonization and that information is in line with agreed practice.
  • Distribute educational materials or message guides.

Capacity Development

  • Asses SBCC training needs of relevant partners (spokespeople, community mobilizer networks, media, NGOs and volunteers).
  • Organize and deliver SBCC training as per identified need. Monitor and respond to ongoing developments relating to the emergency response, including rumors, new situations and additional outbreaks.

Monitoring & Evaluation

  • Develop, implement and coordinate an M&E plan, containing specific behavioral indicators and objectives.
  • Constantly reassess activities, communicating regularly with the beneficiaries, and revise action plan as necessary.

An area that is not often included in the communication pillar but is essential to the communication response is media monitoring.

Media Monitoring:

  • Monitor and respond to ongoing developments relating to the emergency response, including rumors, new situations and additional outbreaks.
  • Periodically review the content on air, and the current messages being disseminated by the media.

Effective Functioning of the Emergency Communication Pillar

Once the communication pillar has been formed, it is necessary that its members meet regularly, are able to share information and take appropriate action. The following tips are provided to support effective functioning of the communication pillar:

  • Ensure that each agency has a focal point and keep their contact details up-to-date. Worksheet 1.2, which you have just completed, can help you gather this information.
  • Update the contact information of pillar members regularly as there can be high staff turnover during emergencies.
  • Develop Terms of Reference (TOR) and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) to guide the functioning of the communication pillar. Sample TORs and SOPs can be found at the end of this section, under references.
  • Assign responsibilities clearly to each pillar member and ensure that reporting lines are clear for each activity.
  • Organize regular meetings, but keep them to a minimum, as organizations are likely to be busy with the emergency response and may not attend if meetings are too frequent.
  • Where possible, establish an alternative system for sharing information, such as through email, to keep all members up-to-date with key developments. It is helpful to create an email listserv of communication pillar members and update that regularly.
  • Ensure regular communication with the national emergency response mechanism.
  • Have at least one person from the national emergency response mechanism be part of the communication pillar too as this will allow for a coordinated approach. For the same reason, assign focal persons to represent the pillar in related pillars and report back.

EXERCISE: Key Considerations for an Emergency Communication Pillar

Once the stakeholders have been identified, and a pillar has been formed, there are some key procedural considerations for its effective functioning. The checklist below, Worksheet 1.3, highlights some of the important first steps for the communication pillar that can lay the foundation for a solid SBCC response during an emergency.