During the drought and famine that struck parts of the Horn of Africa in the first months of 2011, infoasaid and ActionAid launched an innovative communications project to support ActionAid’s emergency programmes in Isiolo, Kenya by improving communication with drought affected populations.
To overcome the numerous challenges in rapidly communicating with large numbers of people in a vast area with poor roads and security incidents, the project used several communication platforms to send and receive information. These platforms included two mobile phone technology solutions- FrontlineSMS and Freedom Foneand community bulletins.
The project had three strategic objectives:
- To improve the effectiveness of ActionAid’s humanitarian assistance in Isiolo County through systematic, fast, and reliable communication between the organization and the people it serves;
- To enhance ActionAid’s monitoring and reporting through improved data collection;
- To provide communities in Isiolo country with vital information that could improve their livelihoods.
Underlying the project’s design was ActionAid and infoasaid’s shared belief that communication is an aid-deliverable in its own right. The link between information and accountability to crisis-affected communities is at the heart of ActionAid’s human rights-based approach. If information is not shared with communities how can an organization guarantee transparency? And if an organization does not listen to communities, engage with them in a dialogue and ensure that their feedback is acted upon, how can that organization claim to be accountable?
By providing communities with vital information, and enabling them to seek information in turn, submit feedback, and interact with humanitarian organizations, communication can help communities become greater participants in their own recovery process. Communicating with crisis-affected communities is not synonymous with accountability but it does promote it.
The infoasaid/ActionAid International Kenya (AAIK) pilot communications project is novel in its approach to delivering communication as a form of humanitarian assistance, and as a means of improving the delivery of food assistance in Kenya. It is also innovative in its use of mobile technology solutions in a protracted crisis (drought) setting.
This learning review aims to identify and document lessons from the infoasaid/AAIK communications project in Isiolo County, from May 2011 to March 2012. The review seeks primarily to contribute to the sector’s understanding of whether/how communicating with crisis-affected communities affects the quality of humanitarian assistance. In addition, for humanitarians interested in practical information about establishing similar communications projects, the review looks at the success and challenges of the implementation process and provides recommendations to AAIK for enhancing the current project.