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E.10 Community Engagement at a Distance

Community engagement aims to listen to and enable different community groups within the affected community to influence WASH programme decisions. Remote community engagement has the same aims but seeks to achieve this partially or fully ‘at a distance’ due to safety or security concerns C.8

All the principles that shape face-to-face community engagement still apply when working remotely. Often it is in these challenging circumstances that community engagement is most vital.

Community engagement should be planned and systematic despite taking place in dynamic contexts and with ever-changing community perceptions. Identifying community intermediaries or stakeholders with whom to hold discussions and through whom information can be communicated is a key first step of community engagement at a distance. It requires an understanding of existing socio-cultural and political structures and context so that the stakeholders tasked with connecting the community with humanitarian staff are trusted by a diverse range of community members A.7. These intermediaries are likely to be the key interface with the community, but may also be busy individuals with limited prior experience of working in crises. Listening to communities effectively is likely to raise issues that are broader than the work of one organisation, so it is important to establish ways of sharing information or referring issues to others who may be able to act upon them. 

Process & Good Practice

  • Map community stakeholders (A.7 and T.49). Ideally, networks of stakeholders and their contact details should be set up in advance of a crisis. If not, it should be a priority during the first phase of a remote response. Try to build upon local community networks, innovations and coping mechanisms through, for example, supporting local action plans.

  • Be mindful of whose voices might not be represented by some of the stakeholders and identify people who can speak on behalf of these groups. Proactively ask questions such as ‘whose voice is not being represented?’ and ‘what are the unintended consequences of our programmes or the behaviours we are encouraging?’ Avoid making assumptions about which individuals or delivery channels are trusted by the community.

  • Set up a communication tree or plan C.10. It should describe how the intermediary stakeholders will share information ‘up’ to humanitarian agencies, ‘sideways’ among the network and ‘down’ to others in their communities. In addition to connecting a diverse set of stakeholders, a communication plan may also involve strengthening the networks within the community so that they can be contacted remotely if necessary. Useful tools for remote communication include local radio stations T.38, closed social media groups or WhatsApp groups T.44. Where possible, some Household Visits T.18 may be necessary to involve marginalised groups: safety measures should be put in place to facilitate this. 

  • Provide support and assess whether Capacity Strengthening E.9 or other support is needed so that stakeholders can perform their role effectively during a crisis. This may include training that can be delivered remotely, developing resources such as frequently asked questions with standardised answers (adapted over time) or providing phones, charging (solar) facilities and credit to stakeholders so that they can keep in touch. 

  • Strengthen the qualitative skills of staff and volunteers as community perceptions are difficult to obtain through surveys and quantitative tools. 

  • Build-in opportunities to share views and decide how to adapt programmes. Set aside an hour a week to meet with intermediaries remotely and identify how to adapt programmes in response to community perceptions and changed circumstances. Share this information at regular humanitarian coordination meetings P.9 to make sure the interventions are aligned. 

  • Establish mechanisms for all members of the community to share their views, in addition to working with stakeholders. Potential mechanisms include telephone hotlines, online chat groups or social media pages, information points in communities, radio call-in sessions or proactively calling or messaging populations. It is useful to use a mix of approaches that allow for rolling feedback as well as dedicated periods of active data collection to focus on emerging issues. 



To support community engagement with crisis-affected communities in locations where in-person contact is prevented due to insecurity or other risks to community members or humanitarian personnel.


  • Engaging and listening to communities can improve the effectiveness, acceptability, local ownership and sustainability of hygiene programmes. It is a core element of hygiene programmes, not an add-on component. When done well it will - and should - be time-consuming and resource-intensive.

  • The key principles and processes of community engagement E.1 continue to apply – even when working remotely. Active listening and adaptation still need to happen throughout the project life-cycle. 


Online briefing paper with practical tips for working remotely

Palmer, J. (2020): Summary Report on Doing Community Engagement at a Distance, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub

Guidance on community engagement in relation to COVID-19

GOARN, IFRC, UNICEF, WHO (2020): Tips for Engaging Communities during COVID-19 in Low-Resource Settings, Remotely and In-Person

Short Guide on communication at a distance

BBC Media Action (2020): Community Engagement from a Distance - Guide