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Covid-19 program data toolbox

3.1.3 Alternatives to accountability mechanisms


Remote alternatives to accountability mechanisms

It is likely that your usual mechanisms of accountability and exchange with communities will be impacted by the crisis (e.g., suspension of activities such as community mobilization, helpdesk, suggestion boxes, etc.). And even if your programmes are suspended and/or if your team members are now working remotely, it is important to maintain channels of communication and feedback1 (either to carry out remote monitoring of activities or, at the very least, of the context and to inform communities of the changes made by your NGO).

Possible alternatives

The same alternatives (with globally the same constraints and opportunities of deployment) as those mentioned above are available to you, namely:

  • Phone calls from your usual contacts (focal points, local authorities, etc.) to take or broadcast news,
  • SMS or IVR to send grouped information (e.g., to give a hotline number - see below) or to establish a dialogue - SMS platforms can in most cases also be used to follow up individual messages reported by callers.

In addition to these alternatives, there is also the possibility of:

  • Set up (or develop if existing) a hotline via a simple telephone number allowing affected communities to reach you. This hotline can be set up via a single contact person within your organization or via a mini “call center” involving several respondents. If you wish to set up a toll-free number, you will need to contact an aggregator.
  • If you are in an area with a wide internet connection and the use of social media and/or instant messaging applications is widespread, you can use Facebook (by creating a page for example for your project to receive private messages - see section 3.1.4 Data protection issues), Whatsapp, Viber, etc. or even just an email address to collect feedback and exchange.
  • Using platforms that allow gathering several alert channels (SMS, social media, etc.) such as through Ushahidi.

The diagram2 below shows the different communication methods possible depending on the literacy level and the size of your audience. Keep in mind that, as far as possible, it is advisable to have diverse communication channels (e.g. SMS and Whatsapp) and - if possible - not to rely solely on the telephone (given the biases generated by its use - see Part II. 2) to respond to your different audiences.

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Good practices and lessons learned

  • Even if your accountability mechanisms are primarily intended to ensure the continuity of your activities, you must include elements of response to the epidemic in them! The management of an epidemic depends heavily on the collective management of information about the crisis, and it is ethically impossible to ignore this aspect.
    • Your teams and protocols must therefore include the possibility of answering questions from your interlocutors about Covid-19, informing on false rumors, referring cases, etc.
    • You must ensure that you have the ability to respond to all types of feedback, complaints, questions and requests, even if they are outside of your scope. This is because the beneficiaries expressing feedback or requesting information expect a response from the organization - without this capacity your interlocutors will lose confidence in your system. If you feel that you do not have the capacity in terms of processes (ability to refer situations, etc.) and resources to respond to all requests (a hotline is quite costly in terms of human resources for receiving calls and following up on requests), it is strongly recommended NOT to set up a hotline or similar system. Moreover, if the line is too often busy or inaccessible, the service will be little used because it is perceived as unreliable. For more information: please refer to the ALNAP guide Closing the Loop: Effective Feedback in Humanitarian Settings.
    • Even more than in normal times, in this context of crisis, hotlines and feedback mechanisms are likely to multiply and create confusion among communities. It is therefore essential to coordinate with all the actors present (Red Cross, national alert system, other NGOs…) in your intervention zone to try to have unified communication methods and limit the number of hotline numbers, SMS, Whatsapp, etc. Therefore, be sure to find out what systems are in place or planned before creating your own communication channel. Coordination should also help to identify the most suitable communication methods and the questions people have.
    • On the basis of the Ebola experience, anticipate possible misuse of your communication systems (include in your protocols the possibility of detecting “fake” calls).
  • If you don’t already have a hotline or SMS facility in place, it is likely that at the beginning of its deployment you will receive few contacts or unexpected questions, etc. Building community trust in a new communication system often takes time.
  • Too many calls or text messages to aid recipients can lead to aid fatigue and can undermine acceptance of the systems.

Ask yourself the right questions!

  • Are there any hotlines that have already been used in the area? What are the lessons learned?
  • Who among the affected populations has access to a telephone?
  • Can they answer in writing (SMS)? Or just orally (call)?
  • Is there a need to distribute phones? Chargers?
  • What is the best way to reach all those involved?
  • Where and how are the messages stored?
  • Can you really respond to each individual request?

See p.16 for more information: the GPPI guide.

  1. You can also see Humanitarian Data Solution’s post on additional elements on the accountability dimension here

  2. MEAL DPro Guide 219 - Humentum: here