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C.10 Communication Plan

A Communication Plan is a key part of an HP strategy and provides an overview of why, how and with whom communication is needed in an emergency WASH response. The plan should be structured, easy to read and regularly updated and shared with all key stakeholders. 

All communications must recognise the significant change of circumstances, grief and stress that people have experienced. This means, amongst other things, being conscious of people’s need for safety, to feel they have a voice, feel their culture is respected and that communications are trustworthy. It is also about being compassionate and non-judgemental.

A communication plan can be developed once it is understood: 

  1. How different groups are adapting their hygiene to the current situation 
  2. What the priority risks A.2 to health are and how they can be minimised 
  3. Social norms, beliefs, practices (B.4, B.5, B.6, B.7) and structures related to WASH 
  4. Existing local capacity to respond A.6
  5. The communication channels and networks used by different groups C.3

Well-designed hygiene communication activities can increase the knowledge of the target audience, influence their perceptions, beliefs and attitudes, change norms (chapter  B ), motivate action, foster the development of skills, advocate for change P.10, promote demand for services and deepen understanding of community perceptions C.6. A communication plan should provide a framework to support the implementation of these activities. 

The WASH cluster’s HP technical working group should, ideally, compile a response-wide overall strategy and plan. Communication plans should be coordinated with the overall response and with representatives from other sectors and government departments e.g. a Ministry of Information (if one exists).

A communication plan must outline the following:                                                    

  • What: aims, objectives, issues and concerns to be addressed
  • Who: primary and secondary participant audiences (e.g. the primary audience for promoting infant feeding practices may be mothers with young children. The secondary audience may be other family members)
  • How: channels of communication (C.4 and C.5) and strategies to make them interactive (listening and seeking feedback), accessible to all and adapted to different audiences (C.3 and chapter  E ). Communication methods and approaches (chapter  T  and chapter  F ) should be included, the human and other resources required (and over what time period) as well as indicators for monitoring and adapting communication and plans for collecting feedback and community perceptions (C.6 and chapter  M ).
  • The plan must also detail the concepts and ideas to be communicated for different elements of the intervention (e.g. for promoting engagement and participation (chapter  E ), involvement in the design of facilities (chapter  P ), supporting accountability M.4, social and behaviour change (chapter  B ), countering misinformation (C.6 and C.9) and for different groups e.g. mothers with young children, teenage men and primary school children (chapter  E ).

A phased approach is often helpful so that the initial focus is on selected priority issues, subsequently adapted or broadened. Revisions may become necessary and alternative means of communication identified as the programme progresses and if Monitoring M.2 identifies changes in public health risks and issues.

Pretesting communication concepts and ideas is always required for mass communication (such as text messages or radio adverts, C.5) and where it is difficult to discuss or clarify an issue immediately. Pre-testing is less important for Participatory Communication C.4 than ensuring the consistency of communication, listening and giving people the chance to discuss and ask questions. It is critical to monitor communication plans and use the feedback to adapt them.

Process & Good Practice

  • Update communication plans continuously; they are living documents that should be kept up to date by the hygiene promoters, communities and other relevant stakeholders.

  • Assess the community A.7 and the communication preferences of different subgroups (men, women, children, persons with disabilities and minorities). 

  • Consider local dialects and how the national language might be perceived in some parts of the country. Assess literacy rates and how communication methods may need to be adapted for people with disabilities C.7

  • Map existing health and hygiene communication strategies and messages and find out how they resonate with the affected population - a familiar message may simply be ignored or need to be re-articulated in a more context-specific way.

  • Design communications to reach different groups and ensure that all communications consider the mental health needs of the population. 

  • Coordinate, share and discuss rapid communication assessments with stakeholders and identify communication priorities as quickly as possible. Build on the initial messaging over time. 

  • Remember that assessments of communication needs are ongoing; initial information is usually incomplete and needs may change.

  • Promote and encourage transparency by sharing assessment findings and plans with the affected community and involving them wherever possible in defining and refining objectives.

  • Develop strategies for supporting the WASH team to actively listen and communicate effectively with affected communities rather than just convey one-way information.

  • Collaborate with others P.9 to develop a shared method for obtaining community feedback and perspectives and for tracking and responding to rumours and disinformation C.6; include this in your communication plan.

  • Make a budget for the implementation of the communication plan.

  • Monitor and evaluate the communication plan to record feedback and learn lessons; use the information to take corrective measures during the programme (chapter  M ).



To provide a framework for action that identifies different community groups, their communication needs and preferences and how to communicate effectively with them.


  • A communication plan for a WASH response should be part of an overall hygiene promotion (HP) strategy. Communication plans should be adequately resourced and integrated into all preparedness and response plans.

  • Timely information and communication are essential in any humanitarian response.

  • A communication plan should be flexible enough to be adapted in response to community feedback C.6.

  • Hygiene promoters are not responsible for the overall communication in an emergency but must coordinate with others P.9 so that HP is consistent with and feeds into an overall communication strategy.

  • Networks of outreach workers in the community can help to make communication more interactive. They can gather community perceptions about how well humanitarian workers are responding to their needs, as well as levels of engagement and satisfaction.

  • Although people need information, they also need the opportunity to ask questions and clarify the information. Communication plans must stress active listening and seeking feedback rather than one-way messages alone.


Overview of how to compile a crisis communication plan

CDC (2014): CERC: Crisis Communication Plans