Note: This is a part of a comprehensive step-by-step approach for creating a Community Based Disaster Risk Reduction (CBDRR) program. Check out the main topic page, CBDRR Practitioners Guidelines, to learn more about the full guidelines.
In most cases the CBDRR programme will be implemented through a community-based organization (CBO) or community group. This step involves identifying and strengthening a community-based structure that is best placed to respond to and manage locally identified needs and vulnerabilities in a sustainable and accountable way.
What do I need to know?
Why is this important?
Groups are usually formed at the community level in most projects, but approaches vary even within country. Sometimes this is context-led, and sometimes it is guided by organisational or project considerations.
There are different ways to work with community groups. It could involve creating a new community- based organisation, which could be formally or informally recognised by local authorities. It could involve working through an existing community group, developing a Red Cross community group, or just working through Red Cross volunteers within the community.
Regardless of the approach taken, the group should seek to represent the diverse needs and interests of the whole community. In urban settings in particular, this representation will require advocacy and engagement with local government.
A Red Cross community group, based on RC volunteers will need continuous support of some form even after programme closure. This type of group may feel more accountable to its local branch than the community and may be limited by the scope of its training and role. A community-based organisation on the other hand can grow and develop after RCRC support concludes, but some are often more vulnerable to local political interference.
No approach to community organisation and mobilisation is ever guaranteed to succeed, but it is important to consider carefully and document what approach is most likely to:
- Address the needs identified in the programme strategy and reach the most vulnerable.
- Ensure the approach taken is sustained and owned by the community (as far as is realistic in the local context).
- Leave the community better organised and more united in addressing the problems they face.
What are key questions to consider when determining what type of community structure to work with?
- What would be the purpose of a community group in this programme context? Is it necessary?
- Which group approach is most likely to:
- involve the right people in the community
- sustain the programme outcomes at community level on the basis of changes in behaviour, knowledge and practice, and
- build a strong, sustainable relationship with local government and other agencies?
- If it is a multi-sectoral programme, which group approach is most likely to deliver sustainable improvement? Is one group alone capable of this?
- What existing groups or capacity already exist within the community and is it possible and appropriate to build upon this?
What are the basic steps in forming or supporting local groups?
- Have a realistic appraisal of local branch skills and experience in group formation i.e. what has worked well in the past, what has been sustained, what problems were encountered etc.?
- Establish a clear group approach in terms of its:
- Current, and post-programme role and responsibilities
- Likely relationships with key external actors like local authority
- Timing of formation
- Accountability to, and representation of, the wider community
- Eventual exit and handover process
Draw up (or revisit existing) local Red Cross group formation and terms of reference guidelines; provide training to Branch staff and volunteers as required and based upon their current capacity to support the agreed group formation or support process.
Initial community engagement should seek to find trusted ‘gatekeepers’ or entry points who can enable a dialogue with the community over the most appropriate approach, on what has worked in the past and then explain clearly each step.
Build in to the project plan realistic, and well scheduled community sensitisation, group formation and capacity building activities.
Training and capacity building of community groups should be based around a core group of relevant competencies and skills for the whole group and targeted individuals –i.e. mobilisation, accountability, monitoring, reporting, leadership, book and record keeping, etc., plus specific skill building and training based upon the group’s role in addressing locally identified needs and vulnerabilities.
What are some success factors or key determinants?
- Understand the community dynamics – building up this knowledge takes time and trust, but without it, there is a risk of establishing a group which is unrepresentative, may fail because village leaders do not feel involved, or because it reinforces existing divisions, or creates new ones (IFRC BPI tools can help practitioner’s better understand these dynamics).
- Community organisation or community mobilisation – whatever approach is taken, having the right skills to support communities and community groups throughout (and after) the programme cycle is critical.
- Timing of group formation such as before a VCA ensures the group’s capacity can be strengthened by its involvement, and afterwards can ensure a group is formed of people best placed to respond to community identified needs and priorities.
- Accountability and monitoring mechanisms – building these in from the beginning, to ensure the group is genuinely representative, is widely understood, regularly reports on its work, responds to need and supports the most vulnerable, and is open to questions and new members. Open and transparent election processes are always desirable. Accountability is to the community, as well as the Red Cross and possibly local authorities.
- Respect for Red Cross principles – we should ensure that respect for the principles are built in to agreements, terms of reference, accountability and monitoring mechanisms right from the beginning of the process.
- Relationships with neighbouring communities – what are the current dynamics, and how might a new group be able to positively influence practice and behaviour in communities nearby?
- This is a first step in meeting beneficiary accountability standards. The four main ones are: 1) transparency, 2) participation, 3) community monitoring & evaluation, and 4) complaints and response. By implementing these CBDRR guidelines, practitioners will be better able to meet all four standards.
To be included later based on user need. Suggestions for potential examples have included the Philippine Red Cross.
What are some useful tools and methodologies?
- IFRC Better Programming Initiative (BPI)
- Uganda Red Cross checklist for community dialogue - Working with existing groups
- Uganda Red Cross - Group formation and terms of reference guidelines for community led group formation
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