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C.1 Key Concepts and Good Practice

Process & Good Practice

  • Use in-person communication methods where possible and active listening to ensure meaningful engagement with the affected population. 

  • Increase the accessibility of information to different groups by providing it in multiple formats (including written, oral and pictorial). 

  • Focus on the content of the communication as well as the methods. For example, some methods are fun and engaging but people may fail to grasp the content of the communication.


  • Use a mixture of channels. Digital channels can be effective, but each has its limitation and should be combined with other communication channels. Marginalised groups may not have access to technology. The use of Social Media T.44 as a channel requires a strategy to be effective.

  • Ensure that group discussions and events are well facilitated and moderated and encourage active listening.

  • Use high-quality communication materials that are tailored to the target audience. 

  • Create a suite of communication materials on the same topic to help target multiple audiences.

  • Consider the use of short, engaging and innovative communication materials (e.g. phone videos or humorous posters).

  • Use interactive communication materials if possible. They facilitate two-way communication and can help to deepen understanding and develop trust.

  • Create messages (where used) that are relevant and use simple and familiar language.

  • Assess people’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and practices T.24 and understand the risks they face to their health A.2. Identify barriers to avoid or change. Identify key behaviours and target them one at a time. Follow the assessment with communications research to guide objectives, messages and monitoring activities.

  • Disaggregate large audiences into smaller groups or segments of people who have similar needs, values and/or characteristics (A.7 and C.3). 

  • Ensure that the information provided is inclusive and does not discriminate against any one group 

  • Involve influential community members T.22 such as leaders and teachers as educators and promoters and familiarise them with participatory methods (if required).

  • Ensure that Feedback Mechanisms T.13 are available and accessible to different audiences M.5 and that the affected community can share their opinions or express their concerns about WASH communications.

  • Monitor M.2 and Evaluate M.3 to continually improve the effectiveness of communication. The process should be as participatory as possible M.5.


Key Concepts

  • Hygiene promotion (HP) is more than the provision of one-way information. It is a dialogue with communities about hygiene and related health problems to learn about their needs and encourage improved hygiene practices.

  • Communication is relevant for all WASH actors and in all phases of an emergency. It may vary according to the situation but where ‘messages’ are used they must be specific, actionable and clearly articulated. 

  • The first step in the design of communication approaches is to first diagnose the situation, needs and preferences of the audience and then define the objectives and priority actions. The communication methods used must be mutually understood by both the audience and communicators.

  • Communication ‘channels’ refer to the tools used to communicate (C.4 and C.5); they can be traditional or modern. Traditional and existing channels of communication are easier to use and are often more effective than newly introduced channels. Communication channels range from:

    • Oral interpersonal communication: community meetings, face to face communication, peer to peer exchange, word of mouth
    •  Written interpersonal communication: guidance manuals, flipcharts, communication material for target audience groups like parent-child
    •  Community or folk media: Community Drama and Puppet Theatre T.6, Songs and Stories T.47, Events T.11, group discussion, mobile video unit/presentation, talk, workshop, Household Visits T.18, Demonstration T.10, community Radio T.38
    • Mass and mid-media: Radio and TV T.38, Print Media such as brochures, booklets, flyers, newspapers, newsletters T.33
    • Social Media and Text Messaging: websites, e-tools, apps like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, mobile and smart phones, videos, blogs, email T.44
  • Effective communication differentiates between various target audiences, identifying what information is needed and which information is appropriate for each group. It addresses how individuals will best understand and obtain this information, based on their preferred communication channel, cultural context and language(s) C.7. One size does not fit all in communication approaches. 

  • Effective communication is accessible to everyone (including people with hearing, visual, intellectual and physical disabilities), appropriate (using preferred communication channels and languages), actionable (moving audiences to specific actions), credible (accurate, trustworthy and transparent) and relevant (based on an understanding of public health and the needs of the population).

  • The development of hygiene promoters’ communication skills needs supporting and adapting to changing local and global communication trends to be effective. Communication should be as participatory as possible and actively involve and empower target audiences; this may be more time consuming but is more effective. 

  • Barriers to communication often exist in emergencies due to complex contexts and a lack of resources. Typical barriers include the physical breakdown or destruction of (or lack of access to) communication channels, trust issues due to myths and misinformation, lack of capacity to coordinate communication, lack of empowerment of communities to take action and distrust between stakeholders (such as government and communities) due to conflict or fragile contexts. 

  • During an emergency, situations change quickly. Communicators must adapt the information and messages in response to a rapidly changing health situation.

  • Feedback is an important aspect of communication and accessible Feedback Mechanisms T.13 must be put in place. Feedback can enable the participation of the target audience in joint decision-making processes that empower them to assess and prioritise issues and to take action. Feedback explains how the information is received, enabling a recalibration of content or form M.5

  • Communication in HP is not solely about influencing behaviour. It also aims to develop trust with affected communities, empower them and assess risks and opportunities to promote social change.



To engage all sections of the affected population through active listening and participatory interaction using communication channels and information that are adapted to the specific context and diverse groups. 


Basic concepts in communication

Spring Arbor University (2019): Fundamentals of Communication: 8 Basic Concepts and Definitions

Communication during emergencies

CDAC Network (2019): Collective Communication and Community Engagement in Humanitarian Action. How to Guide for Leaders and Responders

Barrantes, S., Rodriguez, M. et al. (2009): Information Management and Communication in Emergencies and Disasters. Manual for Disaster Response Teams, PAHO, WHO

World Bank (2020):  Communication during Disaster Recovery. Disaster Recovery Guidance Series

Cabañero-Verzosa, C. (2005):  Counting on Communication: The Uganda Nutrition and Early Childhood Development Project World Bank Working Paper No. 59, World Bank

Short video on communication in emergencies

Infoasaid (2011): Communication is Aid

Online training on communication

Kaya Humanitarian Leadership Academy (undated): Online CDAC e-Learning Course: Communication is Aid