Consulting communities through two-way dialogue in advance of the World Humanitarian Summit

Published: 24 November 2014 12:09 CET

By: Winnie Kamau, IFRC

With World Humanitarian Summit consultations for eastern and southern Africa having taken  in October, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is preparing its contributions on issues it wishes to influence. In eastern Africa, that involves working with the Kenya Red Cross Society to conduct community consultations in the urban Mathare slums of Nairobi, and the rural Magarini slums in Malindi.

Communities were recently engaged in two-way discussions to determine which issues are important to them and to ensure their voices are heard on at least two of the four WHS themes: Humanitarian Effectiveness and Reducing Vulnerability and Managing Risk.

Mathare is one of the oldest slums in Nairobi and is often associated with high rates of insecurity. The slum is prone to fires and clashes among ethnic groups. However, it is also a community of people struggling to forge decent livelihoods for themselves and their children. “The challenges facing Mathare are much greater than many of the other high priority areas. For some reason it does not attract the quality of engagement required,” says Gerry McCarthy, facilitator for People First Impact Method (P-FIM).

P-FIM is a simple methodology which fully allows communities to speak for themselves. The starting point for conversation is people and communities, rather than organizations and projects. Lessons learned from various programmes across the region indicate that many interventions are undertaken without proper planning on community entry or the community engagement process. This leads to a lack of dialogue with communities, inaccurate interventions, and the raising of inaccurate community expectations which result in a lack of community ownership and unsustainable projects.

Eight community groups, each with 15 members, were formed for the consultations. They represented many sectors of society - youth, single women, people living with HIV, teachers, community health workers, and women’s group. In total, more than 120 people were consulted in Mathare, in addition to the 24 Red Cross volunteers and community members who were trained on how to engage with communities, listen to their aspirations, and consult on World Humanitarian Summit issues.

“This method fills the gaps in approaches taken by agencies in addressing community challenges,” says Pauline Chepkwony, a Red Cross volunteer who took part in the P-FIM training. “It really engages the community at a higher level, taking into account their ideas and solutions to their challenges. This, in turn, addresses the issues of ownership and sustainability of projects.”

“I agree,” adds Judy Kemunto,  a fellow Red Cross volunteer who represented the youth during the regional consultations. “The communication pyramid is effective in getting community members to talk about their challenges because it asks probing questions instead of leading ones. We get to hear the full honest views of the community on what is working or not working.”

The training also involved residents from the Mathare slums. “These trainings empower communities to begin changing mindsets to effect lasting change,” says Richard Chapia, a Mathare resident who is a member of Mathare Safety, a community-based organization. “P-FIM emphasizes the need for donors and agencies to fully consider the wider context to ensure that proposed programmes are relevant. Making weak assumptions only leads to inappropriate responses.”

Ensuring rural voices are also heard

Using the same approach, the urban consultation was followed up with a five-day workshop in Malindi county to ensure the voices of rural communities are also heard. Two Red Cross volunteers who were part of the Mathare training co-facilitated the training for 23 participants from different agencies working in the region, plus volunteers.

“Community members in Malindi felt the process was very involving, and for the first time, they felt like they were really being listened to,” says Philip Olodo, IFRC programme assistant. “The community took responsibility for their role in ensuring a project succeeds and provided some solutions during the discussions.”

Some Kenya Red Cross staff described the process as eye opening and looked at ways to better engage communities with whom they work. They were able to identify gaps in their current community engagement and felt they could easily adjust some aspects of their approach.

The training of Kenya Red Cross volunteers and workshop participants on the community engagement methodology creates a pool of trained personnel who can carry out similar exercises elsewhere.

The main recommendations from the consultations focus on community and youth engagement. Communities want to be more involved in all phases of programming with their opinions and needs being listened to before project implementation. Youth feel they are almost never consulted, even though they represent the majority of the community.

Sexual and gender-based violence was also a major issue for communities, both in rural and urban contexts, and participants feel more support from governments and humanitarian actors is needed to address this.

Next steps include sharing the recommendations and taking action upon key identified issues to ensure accountability.