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C.8 Remote Communication

Communication or delivery channels are the means by which organisations can reach, engage with and inform people within communities. Remote communication channels are those that do not involve in-person interactions with communities, such as mass media (e.g. radio, television, newspapers) or digital communications (e.g. phone-based messaging or calls and social media).

Remote communication channels work well when they are designed to complement in-person activities. This is because remote channels may not grab the full attention of audiences in the same way that in-person interactions can do. There is also typically a time lag between when people are exposed to a message via a remote communication channel and when they have the opportunity to practice the preventative behaviour. Strategies to overcome this include designing content that will stand out and resonate with local audiences and maximising the likelihood of exposure by repeating messages as frequently as possible at different times of the day.  

There are benefits and limitations to all delivery channels. Mass media C.5 has the potential benefit of reaching populations over a large area with standardised messages. It is often (but not always) seen as a trusted and legitimate source of information and can be cost-effective if well targeted. However, in many settings, populations do not have equitable access to Radio and TV T.38, or multiple networks are needed to reach people across a region. The use of mass media often requires the broadcasting of messages to a whole region or nation in a standardised way. Standardised messages can be less persuasive as they may seem less relevant to a particular individual’s circumstances or context. One way to overcome this is to share the stories of individuals and make the content aspirational as well as practical. Additionally, previous learning or formative research M.7 from the region can make the messaging more context-specific.

Several factors influence the selection of appropriate communication channels. The use of digital communication (such as social media or online group chats like WhatsApp, T.44) can be cheap but time-consuming as they have to be well moderated. Digital platforms have the benefit of enabling programmes to share a range of images, video, audio and links and to engage in a two-way discussion with populations. If done well, online platforms can create peer-to-peer learning T.29 and sharing spaces that have considerable influence, although achieving this can be difficult as attention spans on social media are brief. As with mass media, access to online spaces may not be possible for everyone in the targeted community. Some social media sites make it easy to track how people are engaging and sharing content; this can be useful for adapting messaging. Text or audio-based phone messages T.44 can be effective in areas with high mobile coverage although the content needs to be short and typically only allows for one-way engagement. It can also be easy for users to become frustrated if they receive too many messages. 

Process & Good Practice

  • Focus on content more than on the selection of delivery channels. A delivery channel may be effective at reaching members of the target population but its capacity to change behaviour relies on well-designed content. Use behaviour change theories B.2 to inform the content and consider the following: relevant knowledge B.3, utilising social influence, norms and group affiliation B.6, appealing to aspirations and addressing common behavioural barriers (B.4, B.5 and B.7), helping people to make behavioural plans B.7 and (potentially) rewarding people for doing the right thing T.40.

  • Consider the following when selecting the most appropriate delivery channels for the context:

    • Access to the targeted population
    • The target behaviour to be changed
    • Population preferences for communication channels
    • Language C.7, literacy and inclusion C.3
    • Access to communication technologies
    • The time and cost of utilising each delivery channel
    • The communication channels used by other actors
    • Lessons learned (M.6, M.7, M.8) from previous uses of remote communication in the target area (or one that has similar characteristics)
  • Assess common patterns and preferences in people’s use of digital channels. This can be done using rapid formative research M.7, talking to other stakeholders and reviewing media surveys from the country. The Wash’Em approach F.22 includes a ‘Touchpoints tool’ for rapidly mapping delivery channels. 


  • Develop a Communication Plan C.10 which describes how frequently content will be shared and how this may be adapted. 

  • Find creative ways of involving populations. Didactic, one-way, information sharing is not normally effective at changing behaviour. Engage people in the design and use of remote communication channels by, for example:

    • Incorporating a range of ‘voices’ and perspectives
    • Designing content that realistically portrays the communities and their day-to-day realities
    • Identifying opportunities for participation such as radio call-in sessions, television interviews with community members or polls, discussions and photo sharing on social media 


To communicate with crisis-affected communities when access is prevented or limited. 


  • Reduced access to the targeted population is usually the main reason to select remote communication channels. In many crises, safety and security concerns prevent humanitarian staff from undertaking regular in-person activities to promote hygiene behaviour. For this reason, all hygiene promotion programmes should incorporate some ‘remote communication channels’ to mitigate the impact of deteriorating circumstances.

  • Behaviour change programmes are likely to be more successful if they utilise multiple delivery channels to reach populations repeatedly over time. This is because the behavioural messages are reinforced through multiple channels and, with repetition, the desired behaviour is perceived as normative B.6

  • Relying on a narrow set of delivery channels can exclude some of the affected population so that marginalised groups may not be able to engage with or participate in the programme. All delivery channels have strengths and limitations. It is therefore important to take time to learn about the best communication channels for reaching different sub-groups within the population. 

  • Remote communication does not have to be one-way; participatory C.4 remote communication techniques are recommended. 


Detailed information about the strengths and limitations of different remote delivery channels

Jain, A. (2020): Summary Report on Maximising Different Delivery Channels for Communicating About COVID-19, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub

Things to consider when developing communication content

Hasund Thorseth, A. (2020): Summary Report on the Production and Distribution of Communications Materials, COVID-19 Hygiene Hub

Key principles for designing effective communication

WHO (2017): WHO Strategic Communications Framework for Effective Communications

Communications guidance for working in humanitarian settings, including links to useful tools and guidance

UNHCR (2021): Communicating with Communities

Rapid way of assessing the acceptability and reach of different delivery channels

Wash’Em (2020): The Touchpoints Tool