Suara Komunitas: Improving Disaster Response Through Community Engagement

Front cover of the first edition of the Suara Komunitas bulletin released in November 2018

In the early days of October 2018, during the immediate aftermath of the Central Sulawesi tsunami and earthquake, a group of humanitarians came together in Palu. Their mission was to ensure that amidst the devastation of the natural disaster that had just struck the area, affected communities were informed about humanitarian agencies’ activities and could meaningfully engage in the humanitarian response and their own recovery. Suara Komunitas, which means ‘community voices’, is a product that was developed as a result of this engagement by PMI (Palang Merah Indonesia) and IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Societies) with support from UN OCHA, UNICEF and Pulse Lab Jakarta. It presents feedback gathered from communities affected during the natural disaster and is intended to help humanitarian responders make decisions and adapt programming as disaster response efforts progress.

The Community Engagement Working Group which the bulletin was borne out of, consists of individuals from a range of humanitarian agencies who meet regularly in Palu to present sector-based updates and feedback, as well as coordinate collective action. Informed by inter-agency community engagement efforts and discussions with affected people, the bulletin was launched as a unique way to present extensive community feedback that was being collected in the first weeks of the humanitarian response to humanitarian actors and government authorities who were consolidating their planning around the response and recovery.

With feedback coming in via various information channels, such as from community focus group discussions and the local media, how to present the qualitative and quantitative information in a straightforward and cohesive way was also something to consider. Pulse Lab Jakarta joined forces with the working group to assist with managing and visualising data which was gathered on the ground, alongside direct quotes and inquiries voiced over the local radio station Nebula FM and in other participatory forums in Central Sulawesi.

This led to the development of a visualisation dashboard prototype that helps with making sense of the data collected, which is useful for identifying and informing stakeholders about important trends and gaps that exist. The prototype of the visualisation dashboard that is available is modular, which means it can be efficiently utilised in other disaster relief scenarios.

Screenshot of a prototype of the visualisation dashboard that was developed
Feedback presented in the first news bulletin of Suara Komunitas

In the humanitarian arena, community engagement is a programmatic field of work through which organizations can be accountable to affected populations. Feedback and complaints mechanisms are key operational components; whereby the voices of those affected by disaster can reach and inform decision makers, such as government bodies and humanitarian agencies. Providing regular and concise feedback about communities’ priorities, information needs and preferred communication channels is used to both support community engagement strategies and trigger decisions and adaptive programming.

As a community feedback bulletin, Suara Komunitas demonstrates behaviour trends, as well as presents, on the ground evidence from the community level to the decision making level. In doing so, it has become a key accountability and advocacy tool for coordinating disaster response efforts. Indeed, feedback and complaints mechanisms such as Suara Komunitas are increasingly recognised as an essential part of an emergency response, and similar crises have given rise to publications of feedback from communities in recent years. What Matters is a similar product that presents feedback from communities affected by the Rohingya crisis to assist with organising relief activities based on the needs and preferences of the people affected.

Suara Komunitas is an example of international ‘good practice’ on accountability to affected cohorts of a population after a natural disaster. This practice seeks to interrogate how the humanitarian response has supported the systematic provision of information to communities; how humanitarian agencies’ decisions were informed by the views of communities; and how communities were enabled to appraise agencies’ performance in delivering aid, including on sensitive issues such as sexual exploitation and abuse by those associated with aid provision.

As an advocacy tool, Suara Komunitas depends upon credibility built with evidence from the affected communities themselves. Its success in the Central Sulawesi emergency response relies on access to quality data and its visualisation, as much as it does on a commitment to advancing the expression of concerns of affected population. The quality of data included in the bulletin depends on the convergence of many factors, including:

  • having multiple sources to draw from including initial needs assessments, monitoring tools, focus group discussions with target groups (women, young people) and persons with specific needs, face to face discussions;
  • having skilled collaborators who know how to gather and assemble clear data drawn directly from communities;
  • access to digital systems for recording feedback effectively and clearly;
  • access to good templates and models from other responses to use as track record and guidance;
  • identifying strong or emerging trends alongside quotes, rumours, questions and complaints, to build the quality of the information;
  • fostering an intersection and co-operation with existing media channels and modalities for feedback such as the local radio station; and
  • ensuring that key collaborators understand the role of advocacy and community-led feedback and how such a tool can be effective in the response.

During 2018, two editions of Suara Komunitas were produced in November and December, and there’s a forthcoming edition planned for the first quarter of 2019. Besides having access to quality, ground truth humanitarian data, the production of the news bulletin continues to require a coordinated approach among the various affected communities and humanitarian and government stakeholders, as well as a range of publication skills to ensure its sustainability. The news bulletin is available in English and Bahasa Indonesia and can be downloaded here.


Pulse Lab Jakarta is grateful for the generous support from the Government of Australia.