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C.6 Community Perspectives and Rumours

Listening to the affected community is a vital aspect of communication and community engagement. Using a systematic approach to collect community perspectives is more likely to result in their use to influence and adapt the response. Various approaches and tools can be used to do this, including day-to-day interactions with community members, regular documented meetings with different groups, listening exercises, accountability mechanisms M.4, structured rapid or mobile perception surveys and listening to social media. 

Rumour tracking and Community Perception Tracking F.24 describe two new but different approaches used by organisations to ‘listen’ to the community, but there are a variety of ways of capturing community feedback and insights in a systematic way. There is often overlap between the different approaches. 

Community Perspectives

Community feedback and perspectives can be understood as views, ideas or beliefs that are held individually or collectively within a particular community and which can translate into questions, concerns or practices about the emergency and the response to it. Understanding community perspectives is like taking the pulse of the community and making sure that communication remains useful, programmes stay relevant and issues are addressed. Listening, verifying, analysing and engaging are the main ways to understand community perspectives. At the core of community perspectives is active listening and asking questions to understand what people are thinking and feeling and to hear their views on how to improve and work together.

Systematically collecting community feedback about the response and their concerns can also highlight rumours (see below). It can also identify satisfaction or problems with the programme as well as adaptations that can improve effectiveness or address abuses of power. In recent years feedback collection and documentation has increasingly been done using mobile technology. It is important to triangulate and discuss findings with communities and other stakeholders so that action can be taken and so that communities know the purpose of the approach or tool used.

Communities’ perceptions can rapidly change depending on the different stages of the emergency, the context and how the response is developing. As this information can vary widely across different groups of people and different locations, it is important to capture qualitative information, in real-time, on perceptions and beliefs related to the specific situation.


A rumour is unverified information that passes from one person to the next; it can be true or false or a mixture of both. Misinformation is the result of misunderstanding and misconstruing information but without the intent to deceive. Disinformation is spread deliberately to influence, manipulate and deceive others. For example, people may be fearful of drinking water from a particular source because they have seen people adding chemicals to it - they have received some information but not the whole picture (the well is being chlorinated) and so they are misinformed. However, if they receive a WhatsApp message where someone purporting to be a scientist tells them that throwing salt in front of their door will prevent them from getting Ebola - that is disinformation. 

Rumours, misinformation and disinformation often take place without humanitarian workers being aware of them, but they can cause significant damage to health and wellbeing and to the capacity of agencies to implement programmes effectively. In times of crisis people may be more susceptible to rumours or persuasive disinformation messages. They want to know what to do in their changed circumstances and find critical thinking harder. They may be exhausted and stressed and their normal trusted sources of information disrupted. Rumours often flourish in situations of uncertainty where information is difficult to access. If various actors share confusing and inconsistent messages, as often happens during epidemics and pandemics, it can lead to the proliferation of rumours. This is one reason why interactive, clear and transparent communication is so important. 

There are various ways to systematically identify and verify rumours in a planned and coordinated way through field and partner staff, local and social media and local groups and networks. Hygiene promotion outreach workers are also well placed to identify and respond to rumours.

Process & Good Practice

  • Coordinate with governmental and non-governmental agencies P.9 and devise a system for identifying, logging, jointly analysing and responding to community perspectives and feedback (including rumours) to harmonise communication with communities and share relevant information with different sectors. If this is not possible, establish an alternative system.

  • Start listening to community perceptions as part of preparedness measures if possible; at the very least begin at the outset of an emergency. 

  • Explain to communities how their perspectives and insights have been used to improve the response, closing the feedback loop. Clarity of purpose and buy-in from the whole WASH team, especially managers, will be essential to make sure that the insights are acted upon.

  • Train staff in active listening skills C.2. Hygiene promoters need these skills for their routine work as do all staff dedicated to collating, analysing and acting upon the feedback. Those collecting the information must be trained, trusted and accessible to the community (consider gender, diversity and language). They should not be perceived simply as data collectors working in isolation - they are an important part of the hygiene promotion team.

  • Map local media, groups and networks and, if appropriate, develop partnerships to support the process of engaging communities and establishing meaningful and effective two-way communication. 

  • Share and discuss triangulated data and the actions identified with all stakeholders. Prioritise the most harmful rumours that require immediate action. Feedback that may not be directly linked to WASH should still be acted upon to maintain the trust of the community in the response as a whole.

  • Hold open, unstructured conversations with individuals and groups initially, to elicit feedback that may need more exploration.

  • Counter rumours, where possible, by developing a new narrative to replace them as it may not be sufficient to simply deny the rumour. A new narrative may be a more positive message, or additional information tailored to different groups and coming from a trusted source such as a religious leader or someone respected as an expert.

  • Avoid directly repeating and sharing a rumour; it is better to rephrase it as a question or immediately clarify that it is a false rumour. 

  • Monitor the impact of any efforts to counter rumours and monitor and identify new rumours.

  • Establish open and transparent communication mechanisms with the community. Rumours often arise because of a misunderstanding or miscommunication, so communities must know how to contact the agency or make a complaint. Staff members who are new to the community should explain who they are and selection criteria must always be shared.

  • Share the main concerns, questions and suggestions from community members with all WASH team members, especially hygiene promoters, who have significant interaction with different community members.

  • Ensure that the process of data collection is supported by managers. The collection of rumours and perception data is challenging: language barriers, incomplete data and biases make the detection of trends difficult. Managers can mitigate the challenges, ensuring that sufficient data is collected, gaps identified and collection teams kept proactive and motivated through regular meetings to maintain morale and reduce collection fatigue.



To ensure that the concerns and reactions of the affected population are collected systematically and used to influence the WASH response.


  • Listening to the community and incorporating their perspectives into the WASH response is at the heart of Communication (chapter  C ) and Community Engagement (chapter  E ).

  • Understanding different community views on the impact of the humanitarian crisis and response will ensure that humanitarian actors adapt the response to the expressed needs.  

  • Rumours, misinformation and disinformation can be dangerous and undermine the humanitarian response, yet often go unnoticed by humanitarian actors.

  • Systematically collecting information from community members on their perceptions, concerns, questions, suggestions and rumours is important, but must result in the information being used constructively to adapt the programme, Communication Plan C.10 and Community Engagement (chapter  E ) activities.

  • Feeding back to communities about how their concerns have been addressed M.5 is essential for building trust.

  • Identifying community perspectives and concerns also supports community-based advocacy P.10


A practical overview of how to manage rumours in an emergency context

Bugge, J. (2017): Rumour has it: A Practice Guide to Working with Rumours

Information on Oxfam's systematic approach to identifying perceptions and rumours

Oxfam (undated): Community Perception Tracker

Practical tips on how to set up a feedback mechanism

IFRC (2020): Tool 15. Feedback Starter-Kit

Guidance on how to conduct regular perception surveys

IFRC, Ground Truth Solutions (2019): How to Establish and Manage a Systematic Community Feedback Mechanism

Guidance on rumour tracking

Internews (undated): Rumour Tracking