Community mobilisation is a process in which relief workers and organisations work together with a community to address the community’s needs. Efforts of this type may be initiated by members of the local community or by outside groups, but in either case the goal is to support and strengthen the community’s natively-available resources, encouraging ownership and continuation also after the relief organisations have departed.
The goal of community mobilisation is to assist the affected community while it recovers. Following a crisis, the ability of the affected community to function independently will be compromised. Community mobilisation is about coordinating services and programmes cooperatively. The role of responding agencies is to strengthen and build on the affected communities’ resources. Including the affected community as an active and willing participant in the process is at the heart of community mobilisation. It is a partnership between those affected and those responding. The affected communities need to be in control of the direction of their recovery. When they have ownership and responsibility for the programmes, they will be better prepared to sustain changes beyond the recovery period.
Community mobilisation is an organisational endeavour. Multiple organisations participate in the process of enabling communities to become self-sustaining. Each organisation is responsible for doing what they do best and integrating their services with other stakeholders, in order to achieve the overall goal - to turn everything over to the local community level whenever possible.
Community mobilisation typically involves multiple agencies. These agencies may be local, national, or even international. Without coordination and cooperation between the agencies and the local community, success would be impossible. When the local community is prioritised in their mobilisation efforts, they are able to sustain the services and programmes they helped to develop.
Introduction to community mobilisation
Community mobilisation is a capacity-building process. Through this process relief workers and organisations collaborate with affected communities to plan, implement, and evaluate activities designed to improve the communities’ health and other needs. It is a participatory partnership that advocates for programmes the local community can sustain. Following a disaster or conflict, individuals can be confronted with emotional and social problems, such as the personal loss of a loved one. The community as whole might also face collective distress.
The goal of community mobilisation is to assist the affected community in getting back on their feet. ‘Assist’ is an important word since it implies that the community is an active participant in the process. Community mobilisation involves strengthening the existing agencies and programmes and building on the community’s resources. It means working side-by-side until the affected community is able to return to normalcy (or ‘new normal’) and independent functioning. Once that happens, the community will be able to sustain the programmes on their own.
There are numerous benefits to community mobilisation. Perhaps the most important one is that there is a better response to community needs and concerns when the affected community is actively involved. The affected community knows what is needed and how to deliver it. They know the culture and are known by the local people.When they participate in identifying problems, programme planning, and other decision making, there will be increased ownership and responsibility for the programmes. Community partnership results in more culturally appropriate and acceptable solutions; consequently, change and sustainability are more likely. Community mobilisation increases access to information and services. It is also more cost effective when outside and local resources are coordinated and cooperative.
Howard-Grabman & Snetro, (2004). How to Mobilise Communities for Social Change.
IASC Guidelines on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support in Emergency Settings
Challenges with community mobilisation
Community mobilisation faces many challenges. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is the sharing of control. In today’s globalised world, information travels quickly and easily. While this allows for a more effective response, it also means that there are more individuals, agencies, and organisations to coordinate. Focusing on including the affected community is more important than ever. For communities to be truly mobilised, all of the organisations need to collaborate and coordinate their services and programmes. They must work together to integrate the affected community into all aspects of the response. Although the affected community may initially be dependent on the support of others, the goal of community mobilisation is to hand over control to the affected community.
Communication is another major challenge in emergencies. Phone service is often unavailable, and when people are displaced, their home phones are ineffective. Disruption in communication also includes disruption in internet services, leading to poor communication with international partners.
Time is another challenge of community mobilisation. When several organisations share control, it may take longer to accomplish goals. To succeed, there must be an organised and cooperative effort among the participants. The more people involved, the longer it may take to reach consensus and make decisions.
It is often a challenge to reach agreement when numerous agencies and organisations are involved. That’s why it is important to establish a common vision and build on common goals. Keeping the goals of the affected community in mind is paramount in having them take ownership of the plan.
Closely related to time is cost. The longer things take, the higher the cost. Efforts may be compromised by cost and lack of financial support. Coordination of services can prevent duplication and be more cost effective.
The capacity of the affected community to participate in the mobilisation effort may also be a challenge. Their ability to respond may be limited by difficult local conditions. They may be physically, emotionally, and mentally impaired or fatigued. Their coping skills may be weakened, and they may lack the necessary skills to help themselves.
Depending on the emergency, security may be a challenge. It may be necessary to secure a safe environment before any projects can occur. In some situations, the environment may remain unsettled, further hampering efforts to restore stability.
Rwanda: Overcoming the dependency syndrome
A unique feature of one NGOs work in Rwanda was its philosophy of nonmaterial assistance. At a time when millions of dollars were flowing into the country to respond to the Rwandan tragedy, the NGO focused its energies on building the community’s capacity to identify and care for children and did not supply traditional material emergency relief. This decision was based on the belief that there was a greater need to encourage self-reliance in order to avoid what is typically referred to as a “dependence syndrome” in emergencies.
In the direct aftermath of the war, many community members were not interested in participating in an activity that did not provide immediate material benefits. Once material assistance begins to dwindle, however, communities were appreciative of the NGOs approach and felt empowered to care for the children in their communities without outside assistance. “As an individual Icould do nothing,” one member of a Rwandan community observed. “As a group we could find a way to solve each other’s problems.”
Save the Children Federation (US), Rwanda field office.
Preparing for community mobilisation
Community mobilisation is often initiated by an external organisation. The external organisation may be a governmental or a non-governmental organisation (NGO). They may be local, national, international, or a combination thereof. In any case, the external organisation is responding to a situation within the affected community.
Deciding whether to mobilise requires careful evaluation of many factors. The effectiveness of community mobilisation in this particular situation, at this particular time, for these particular needs, must be determined.
First and foremost, is to determine whether the affected community is interested in receiving help from outsiders. Community mobilisation cannot be successful if the affected community is not a willing and invested participant. Once the affected community’s commitment to the project has been determined, the responding organisation can begin developing a working relationship with them. Concurrently, the source and magnitude of the problems must be assessed. Immediate needs like food, shelter, healthcare, water, and emotional care must be addressed first. Then, it is critical for community members to prioritise other needs and services.
Knowing the political structure and situation is critical. An unstable political environment can make the situation even more volatile. However, if there are strong political alliances internally and externally, there is a greater chance of support from the political partners.
Evaluating the socio-cultural context is also important. There must be a thorough understanding of the culture involved, so a plan that is sensitive to their beliefs and attitudes can be developed. Additionally, diverse groups must be taken into account. Marginalised groups that might otherwise be overlooked must be identified. Communication can be more difficult when dealing with multiple cultures in one location, but it is necessary to communicate in a culturally appropriate manner.
In order to coordinate services, it is important to learn who can offer what resources. This includes local, national and international assistance. Along with assessing resources, it is important to examine how the community organises itself. Does it have alliances with others beyond the community?
To utilise the available resources, internal and external, the affected community must be accessible. If there are barriers, these must be recognised and remedied wherever possible. If the community has a history of community mobilisation, many services may already be in place. Time usually spent on developing awareness and understanding will be saved. Also, if the community is used to being part of the decision-making process, this will benefit the response process and ultimately, project sustainability.
Initial contact with the community
Understanding community practices and traditions prior to establishing contact can help identify the appropriate approach for engaging with different groups and members of the community. It is important to focus on learning from the community, especially during the initial contact. Take every opportunity to meet informally with diverse members of the community (at the health post, during registration, at distribution points, in the queue for water). Be aware that community members who establish first contact with the humanitarian workers might become “gatekeepers”: they might not mention other groups in the community that require support, if they believe resources are scarce.
Identify an existing committee or a community-based organisation which will give you access to the community and facilitate distribution of messages. Meet the host community and the authorities. Be aware that messages might only reach certain groups, such as community leaders, and not all members of the community. Develop outreach strategies with the leaders and others to ensure that everyone is informed, including women, girls and boys, minority groups, and people with mental and physical challenges. Make sure that information is delivered in a language everyone can understand, is culturally sensitive and is correctly perceived and understood. Arrange meetings at mutually convenient times. Make sure you arrive for meetings on time. Do not make people wait for you.
First impressions matter. Groups or persons in the community may draw conclusions about the organisation based on whom the staff chose to meet with, how the staff behaves and what happens after their visit. Transparency, respect and consistency are essential for building trust, confidence and collaboration between organisations and partners, including members of the community. Ensure that after the first contact immediate follow-up action is taken. Be aware of and monitor security issues, especially for internally displaced persons.
Coordinating community mobilisation
In the event of an emergency or disaster, numerous agencies and organisations will respond. Coordination of services among all local, national, and international participants is essential. Coordination can be difficult when there are many organisations and agencies involved. Sometimes, organisations feel threatened by others instead of seeing cooperation as an opportunity to increase their impact. Organisations may attempt to act in isolation instead of as teams. When this happens, services are not integrated and the continuum of services can break down. Certain services may be duplicated while others are totally overlooked.
It is essential to designate an interagency group or team whose responsibility is to coordinate. It is their responsibility to see that a truly representative cross-section of the community is involved. Communication is a major part of the coordination effort. International, national, and local organisations require open channels of communication to facilitate effective coordination. Communication must be written and verbal. It must also be culturally and socially appropriate. Using local media, community meetings, churches, agencies, formal or informal structures and organisations to raise awareness is important. All participants need to be informed and, more importantly, heard.
The local community’s involvement is paramount. If services are not coordinated, community members may receive conflicting information, contributing to their stress. Members of the affected community may also feel overwhelmed by so many responders. If services and activities are coordinated, they will experience a clean delineation of services. An ongoing dialogue among all participants is key to the success of a relief effort. Hand in hand with communication is education. It isn’t enough for the information to be communicated, it must also be understood. All participants need to be educated on the situation and updated as frequently as possible.
Attributes of programs using empowerment strategies
Attributes of programs using empowerment strategies include, foremost, working with individuals, community and political leaders from the beginning. Equitable participation from the community is essential. Community history, and social, economic and political changes should be taken into account. It is also important to empower community leaders by allowing them to facilitate the following processes within the community: conflict resolution, collection and analysis of data, problem-solving, programme planning, resource mobilisation, and policy advocacy (Goodmanet al., 1998).
Empowerment is an outcome of fostering self-esteem and feelings of individual and collective efficacy. Community power is promoted by recognising local/community authority to make and implement decisions. By increasing the decision-making power of the local community, they are given the knowledge and ability to create or resist change. It is also important to develop strong social and inter-organisational networks to support the community.
The responding organisations act in partnership with the affected community. Their role is to assist the affected community in the process and facilitate and support their efforts. It is important to build upon the local community’s capacity, not to undermine it. Rather than entering a community with prescribed plans, it is essential to build upon the strengths and resources that already exist. By training the local community in the roles and responsibilities of the programs, they will be able to manage and sustain the programme over time. Focus and build on interventions that strengthen the population’s resiliency and resources. Respect and integrate current and traditional ways of coping. Interventions must be within the existing cultural framework and social norms
Gail Snetro-Plewman, Marcela Tapia, Valerie Uccellani, Angela Brasington, Maureen McNulty (June 2007). Taking community empowerment to scale—Lessons from three successful experiences. (Health Communication Insights.) Baltimore: Health Communication Partnership based at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs.
The affected community needs to be actively involved in all aspects of programming. Their participation is essential in assessing, planning, implementing, and evaluating all of the programmes. Whenever possible, existing structures and programmes in the affected community should be used and strengthened. Because the psychological and social impact of emergencies may be long-lasting, it is important that the affected community is able to sustain the programmes over time.
The involvement of the local community may vary. In violent, dangerous, or emergency situations, the external organisations may initially need to take a more active role. Nevertheless, the capacity of the affected community should never be minimised or overlooked. The role of external organisations is to advise and support the local community.
When mobilising the community, it is critical to understand their political, social, and cultural issues.
- What is the structure of power in the community, and how are decisions made? Identify the leaders in the community and enlist their interest, support, and participation.
- How is the affected community perceived by those outside of that community? How are they viewed by government officials at a higher level? Engage active participation of all community representatives, including those who are often overlooked.
- What are the traditional roles and relationships between males and females? Are women valued and respected? What are the economic conditions? Do women and men have self-sustaining economies or are they dependent upon others? Explore factors such as unemployment, inflation, and income levels.
How to build trust
Building trust is an important prerequisite for community mobilisation. Relief workers must take the time to develop a level of trust with the affected community by being supportive, non-directive, and by focusing on the community's goals. Following an emergency, the affected community will feel very vulnerable. The responding organisations need to create an environment of trust that also promotes the participation of the affected community. Building trust can be integrated into daily activities.
- keeping your word;
- being on time;
- asking for opinions and input;
- being transparent in decision making and be willing to share details about the process;
- being accountable and open about finances by sharing income, costs, limitations, & donations;
- always kepepingyour promises;
- setting guidelines about who gets assistance, making them public and sticking to them.
Raising awareness and soliciting input
The participation of the affected community is also dependent on whether or not they are aware of all the issues. If they are aware and concerned, their participation is more likely. In situations where there is little awareness, it will be necessary to meet with individuals and raise their awareness. Utilising existing agencies and organisations is one way to reach out to individuals. It may also be necessary to visit villages. Whenever local individuals can be placed in outreach roles, it is important to do so. Along with increasing awareness, it is important to get input. The affected community should have the opportunity to be heard.
- Work in small teams that include responders and members of the local community;
- Meet daily to plan, coordinate, and share information;
- Define teams by tasks (logistics, communication, finance, project manager, supply manager, tool manager, people coordinator, kitchen, psychosocial, pastoral care).
Resistence to participation and community mobilisation
There are numerous reasons why members of the affected community might not participate in community mobilisation. Participation must be a choice. Nevertheless, everyone should be given the opportunity to make that decision. It is the role of the responding organisations to know about barriers that might prevent someone from participating in the community mobilisation process. Once they are aware of these barriers, they must develop ways to overcome them.
The responding organisations need to assess whether or not there are any physical limits to accessing information. This might include an inability to travel the distance to receive the information, no public transportation, personal physical limitations due to a physical disability, dependents that can not be taken along or left behind and other prevailing responsibilities (child care, jobs, protecting property, etc.).
Cultural restrictions are another area to consider as a possible barrier. Women and men may not be permitted to meet together or it may be inappropriate for anyone other than a community leader to be involved in decision making. There may also be disapproval of family or community (husbands forbidding wives). Individuals may also have ambivalence over their role of being responsible for their family above their community.
It is important to be aware of language and literacy strengths and weaknesses of the community. If someone doesn’t speak the common language, or is unable to read, they may feel intimidated by large groups. Others may feels as if they have nothing to offer.
Additionally, there may be a misunderstanding as to who is invited. There may be misperceptions on whether the focus will be on individuals needs or community needs. Others may not have time to focus on both and will have to choose family vs. community due to time restraints.
The responding organisations need to develop strategies for reaching these individuals and helping them realise the importance of their participation. Then a core group representing the affected population needs to be formed.
Mobilising the community
Mobilising the community is a process. It must be conducted with trust, honesty, and inclusion. The community must feel a sense of ownership in the process, which is established when humanitarian workers listen to their views and opinions. Receiving input from a community can take time, particularly if an organisation is new to the area. However, listening to the community is integral to a project's sustainability and to fostering community ownership.
Orienting the Community
The first step in mobilising the community is to orient them to the process. This can be done in a number of ways, including written communication, television, radio, or an organised meeting. Meetings are more personal and conducive to building relationships. They also facilitate two-way communication where questions can be answered efficiently. It is advisable to start these meetings as soon as possible, so that trust and a positive working relationship can be built between parties.
Arrange a meeting
Having the meeting sponsored or hosted by a respected individual or group within the community can add credibility to its agenda. This may happen through a church, school, tribe, or other local group Utilising community leaders also increases the chances of reaching a cross-section of the population and not just a narrow representation. It is essential that all members of the community receive word about mobilisation and how they can be involved. Outreach to those who are isolated, vulnerable or considered marginal is critical. If they cannot personally attend a meeting, it is important that they be represented in some way.
Define the goals of the meeting
The goals of the meeting must be carefully considered and reflected in the agenda. Community leaders can provide assistance presenting the information in a culturally appropriate manner. Some of the community leaders may be chosen to convey topics with which they are familiar. During this meeting, it is important to solicit the input of the community. Identify their needs and begin to prioritise how those needs will be met.
This meeting will be an opportunity to develop an awareness of what the contributing organisations can provide, and also an opportunity to learn about the strengths and resources of the community. It will be important to define mutual goals and develop a plan as to how to reach these goals. This will include organising individuals to work together and coordinate services.
National and international staff often works at different speeds, for a variety of reasons. These differences must be factored into action plans and considered when defining goals of a meeting. Community leaders and project workers should ask themselves, ‘What can we reasonably expect to achieve at the end of this meeting?’
Develop ongoing ways to communicate
Once goals have been defined and a plan has been developed, it will be important to identify ongoing ways to communicate. Rather than having large meetings, cluster meetings of project staff, community leaders and community members working on similar tasks are more manageable and efficient. The groups should begin team building with all team members (international and national staff, community leaders and community members). It is vital that marginalised and vulnerable people are included in these teams. Mediation with the community may be required for them to ‘allow’ marginalised or isolated members of their community to participate in a team.
Work in small teams that include affected people as well as outside helpers. Team leaders should meet daily for sharing of information, planning and coordination. Not all teams will be required for all emergency response projects. Some people may be a member of more than one team.
Transport people to work locations;
Transport supplies to work sites when needed;
Transport extra supplies to warehouse.
- Tell the story of the emergency to potential donors;
- Tell the story of the response to the church;
- Take pictures of the work;
- Get the story to the press – church, local, national;
- Can be done by someone who is older, disabled, not able to do heavy work.
- Assess the requirements of a specific project in the larger emergency;
- Plan for equipment, supplies and people needed;
- Request equipment, supplies and people through the coordinator and daily meetings;
- Plan the steps to complete the task. Monitor budget and activity plans;
- Work with the team to complete the task;
- Communicate with the Coordinator throughout the process.
- Keep a constant inventory of supplies available for emergency projects;
- Prepare supplies for delivery to sites;
- Purchase supplies requested if approved by coordinator and finance;
- Should be trustworthy and a good organiser.
- Care for tools that are available for use on emergency projects;
- Sign tools out for projects and sign them back in when returned;
- Make sure that tools are working and in good repair;
- Can be done by someone not able to go out to work at sites.
- Recruit people for emergency response (community members, outside helpers);
- Keep track of people, skills and availability;
- Contact people for jobs as needed;
- Thank volunteers for helping;
- Can be done by someone who is not able to do heavy work;
- Should be a person who is calm and gracious.
- Provide coffee, tea, refreshments for workers;
- Depending on emergency, provide meals for workers, or local community if needed;
- Can be asked to provide emergency meals;
- Can be done by local volunteers or a local business that is willing to cooperate;
- Should be included in coordination meetings for best results.
Pastoral Care team
- Provide comfort and hope;
- May pray with and for the needs of people;
- Answer questions that arise from the emergency, such as why there are tragedies;
- Keep company with those in distress;
- May provide worship or prayer meetig for workers at beginning or end of day;
- Can be done by a pastor / priest or someone they appoint.
- Provide psychological ‘first aid’ to victims or workers as needed;
- Organise community meetings to assist in support and problem solving at community level;
- Can organise activities for children or people who are displaced;
- Work as advocates for people’s emotional and social needs;
- Support families as they plan their next steps.
Designate team coordinators to be responsible for the following:
- Make it possible for teams to do their work;
- Facilitate communication between work teams – meetings, messages, reports;
- Manage conflicts – mediate;
- Manage power struggles – recognise;
- Care for staff, volunteers;
- Ensure openness and transparency;
- Be an obliging leader.
Viet Nam: Meeting with the community
Once the program team had assessed the community resources, the health facilities and had completed the nutritional baseline for the Poverty Alleviation and Nutrition Program (PANP), they held a series of community meetings to acknowledge the nutrition problem and its causes and solutions, including an initial feedback meeting with the Village Health Committee and Health Volunteers. Programme managers strived to have a wide participation at these meetings, drawing from a cross-section of the community, including organised community groups such as the Women’s Union and the Farmer’s Union, along with the broader community.
The purposes of the meeting were to
- explain the definition of malnutrition,
- report the results of the community’s nutrition survey of young children,
- identify causes of malnutrition in the community,
- review the goal and objectives for a nutrition program.
Project staff also stated the goal of PANP and invited interested community members to work together in addressing the problem of malnutrition in their communities.
Save the Children Federation (US), Viet Nam field office