According to Sphere, ‘community engagement is a dynamic process that connects the community with itself and other stakeholders so that people affected by the crisis are empowered and have more control over the response and its impact on them’. Community participation and engagement processes listen to and enable different community groups to influence WASH programme decisions. Community engagement increases programme effectiveness by recognising and harnessing the communities’ capacities, needs and priorities and, ultimately, by empowering them.
There are different levels in both community Engagement and Participation E.2. In an emergency, a specific level may be more or less appropriate at any given time. At all levels, the principles of transparency, Accountability M.4 and promotion of autonomy are relevant. Determining the current level of engagement can help to identify actions that allow greater participation and decision making by different groups. Listening carefully to different people’s opinions, encouraging discussion and seeking feedback from communities are key aspects of participation and engagement.
Engagement and participation are at the heart of effective WASH programming. The emphasis on engagement aims to understand the different needs and priorities in the community and to ensure that users are involved in the design of facilities, as well as how services are provided, to ensure that they are acceptable, well used and maintained. The sub-chapters Gender Issues E.3, Babies, Children and Young E.4 and Persons with Disabilities and Older People E.5 consider how to respond to the needs and priorities of different groups within the community. Hygiene promotion in Schools E.6 and Hygiene Promotion in Institutions and other Settings E.8 identify some key principles for working in specific settings.
Enabling community engagement and participation also encourages the Ownership and Management of Facilities E.7. Community Capacity Strengthening E.9 considers the key requirements for developing hygiene promotion and WASH skills in the community. Community Engagement at a Distance E.10 provides information on how to work with communities when access is compromised due to insecurity or other risks.
Hygiene promotion programmes are often in a unique position to listen to, consult with and learn from communities because they usually include an element of community outreach. Staff attitudes and body language are all important to gain people’s trust. Working in an open and respectful way with people will ensure that hygiene communication interventions (chapter C ) build people’s self-esteem ratherthan make them feel ignorant. Didactic approaches to health and hygiene education that seek only to feed people with information are more likely to undermine people’s confidence and ‘self-efficacy’ B.4. Emergency responders are placed in positions of relative power over the community – even if they are part of that community. They must be capable of seeking out feedback and managing complaints (M.5, C.9 and T.13). Training and support will be necessary to enable responders to question and develop their attitudes and practices following careful recruitment of appropriate personnel.