Information, education and communication (IEC) materials: Key actions
Information, communication and documentation are important parts of coping with a complex disaster or conflict. Being informed and being able to communicate provides an opportunity to deal with feelings and allows individuals to make informed decisions about their situation. IEC materials can also provide security, identity and signs of hope. Emergencies tend to destabilise conventional channels of information and communication. Communications infrastructure may be destroyed, existing communication channels may be abused by those with specific agendas such as the spreading of rumours or hate messages and stories may be fabricated to cover up neglect and dereliction of duties. Moreover, ignorance of rights can lead to exploitation – effective distribution of information can counter this.
Information and communication systems can be designed to help community members play an active role in their own recovery process, to be active agents of change rather than passive victims. Information and communication technology (ICT) and traditional methods of communication and entertainment – such as sketches, songs, plays, storyboards, posters, role-playing – can play a crucial role in disseminating information. It’s important that people have access to information about survivor’s rights and entitlements, psychological first aid, positive coping methods and where to find medical, legal and psychosocial help. Appropriate information about relief and the whereabouts of displaced people can also help reunite families.
Urban displaced populations
Often IEC materials do not reach urban refugees or IDPs living in urban centres, due to difficulties in locating these populations and distinguishing them from the urban poor. However, urban refugees in particular need information regarding their rights, because they often have a dubious legal status. Many reside illegally in cities and thus lack even the minimum protective frameworks. Urban refugees and displaced populations are often viewed by host populations as being ‘vectors of disease’ or responsible for the high crime rate in certain areas. Agencies and organisations working with urban refugees and displaced persons must make sure they know their rights and work to counter stereotyping and negative discrimination. Community outreach in mosques, churches, youth centres, markets, transport hubs and other public places is required, both to inform urban displaced populations of their rights and to counter negative attitudes or actions from the host population. Effective communication mediums should target coffee shops and other areas where urban refugees are likely to be working, in addition to using radio messages broadcast in a variety of languages to reach both the urban displaced and host populations.
- Find the organisation(s) that are conducting tracing programmes for separated families (particularly for children).
- Determine which agencies and networks work with information and communication. In many emergencies there are NGOs that explicitly aim to coordinate information collection and data flow during an emergency.
- Develop a communication and campaign plan.
- Ensure coordination between communication personnel working in different agencies. Coordination is vital to maintaining the consistency of any information provided.
- Facilitate the formation of an information and communication team to provide information on the emergency, relief efforts and legal rights, and to strengthen the voices of any marginalised groups. Members of the community can play a key role in disseminating information about services.
- Find out who can be a spokesperson for sharing information. Spokespeople should represent different parts of communities (they include community leaders, women, men, the elderly, youth and other representatives).
- Ask different stakeholders in the population, as well as relief workers, about any key information gaps that must be addressed, for example lack of knowledge about services, entitlements, location of family members, etc. Work with survivors to identify the type of messages they would like to disseminate and the best methods for doing so.
- Engage local people at every stage of the communication process and make sure that messages are empathetic and uncomplicated.
- Involve staff and beneficiaries in documenting the situation. This can also be an important and positive coping mechanism.
Monitoring, Reporting and Documentation
- Analyse who controls channels of communication, asking whether particular groups are disseminating information in ways that advance specific agendas.
- Create channels to access and disseminate credible information to the local population, and wherever possible arrange communication with the “outside world –” this includes friends, families, other communities and authorities.
- Ensure past traumatic events don’t take centre stage in the media by organising media briefings and field visits.
- Encourage media outlets to carry not only images and stories of people in despair, but also to print or broadcast images and stories of resilience and the engagement of survivors in recovery efforts.
When necessary, conduct further assessments that address important questions!
The following questions also provide useful bits of information to share with cluster or coordination meetings managed by UN-OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), as well as ensuring that information is disseminated using the correct medium (radio, newspapers, storyboards, theatre etc.) and, is understood by the target population. Failure to answer these questions could result in inadequate IEC provisions.
These questions may be relevant in a follow-up assessment:
- Which communities or groups of people are on the move, and which have settled?
- Who are the people at risk: are they commonly recognised vulnerable groups, or are they new groups of vulnerable people?
- Are there reports of survivors who have lost mobility? If so, identify where they are located and the existing response.
- Where can people locate themselves safely and which places are dangerous?
- If mental health and psychosocial support is available, who is providing this support? Which agencies are active in this area? Are they covering all affected communities and segments of the population? Are there sections of the community that have been left out? Information about psychosocial services and its goals should be given to staff, authorities, networks and beneficiaries.
- What opportunities exist to integrate information and communication campaigns with ongoing relief efforts?
- What is the level of literacy among men, women, children and adolescents in the population?
- Which pre-existing communication channels are functional? Which channels would be the most effective in the current situation to carry messages related to the emergency, relief efforts and rights?
- Which groups do not have access to the media, possibly due to disability? What methods may need to be developed for dissemination of information to reach such people?
Collect and collate relevant information on a daily basis. This may include information relating to:
- availability and safety of relief materials;
- ceasefire agreements, safe zones and other peace initiatives;
- recurrence of emergency-related events (such as earthquake aftershocks or violence);
- the location and nature of different humanitarian services;
- the location of safe spaces and the services available there;
- key results of assessment and aid monitoring exercises;
- major decisions made by political leaders and humanitarian coordination bodies;
- rights and entitlements (particularly regarding food and non-food item distribution), and any - resettlement, return or relocation packages.
Conveying messages on positive coping mechanisms
- Determine what information about positive coping mechanisms is already available to the affected population
- If no information is currently available, develop information on positive, culturally appropriate coping methods for use by the affected population.
- Positive coping mechanisms that often exist across cultures include: seeking social support, providing structure to the day, relaxation methods, recreational activities, and gently facing feared situations either as part of a group, or with the help of a trusted friend or relative.
- Adapt the information to address the specific needs of sub-groups or the population as appropriate.
- Consider including information that focuses on ‘children’s coping’ and ‘teenagers’ coping’, noting that short-term coping mechanisms such as taking drugs and alcohol abuse are likely to cause long-term harm and damage
In all emergency settings, people experience a degree of psychological distress (grief, anger, sadness, guilt, etc.). It is important to remember that these are completely normal reactions to abnormal situations, and the vast majority of affected individuals will gradually regain a sense of well-being if they are provided with positive coping mechanisms and if they receive support from their families and communities. Making culturally appropriate educational information available encourages affected individuals to adopt positive coping mechanisms. The goal of providing this information is to help individuals, families and communities understand common ways that people might respond to stress and their present circumstances. This is a form of psychological first aid as well as a form of empowerment, as information can help people support each other. Dissemination of information about positive coping mechanisms through printed material or via radio is one of the most frequently used emergency interventions, and has the potential to reach the vast majority of affected people.