While feedback mechanisms are an important component of accountability practices, a culture of listening involves extending beyond feedback tools. Digital technologies make it easier to collect and catalogue feedback but can only work alongside processes of needs consultation and agencies’ immersion on the ground. Cultures of listening cultivate the participation of communities beyond the promotion feedback tools by developing relationships based on respect and trust.
Understanding the specific cultural and social contexts is vital for interventions aimed at encouraging participation and accountability to affected people. Agencies need to recognize local norms and structural limitations that promote or inhibit people’s participation. Community cohesion is also at stake when introducing interventions.
Civil society and local intermediaries
Community organizers with long-term involvement in communities can be important intermediaries for affected people, helping to amplify their voice by involving them in decision-making processes. Identifying, training and involving local people, including leaders, can enhance the delivery of relief programmes.
Digital inequalities and digital literacy
Technologies can have distorting effects (as participation is often limited to those with digital access and skills), thus obscuring the needs of the worst-off in a disaster. Investing in digital literacy (a long- term project) is a vital precondition for the creative and potentially life-enhancing uses of communication technologies. Merely giving people access to technologies will not give them a voice.
Rather than creating a ‘level playing field’ new communication technologies exacerbate social inequalities by heightening the life chances for the better off, whilst leaving poorer participants behind. The deepening of social inequalities can compound the effects of the original calamity and coupled with a delayed recovery can create a ‘second order disaster’.
Understanding the role of social and mobile media in disasters requires us to analyse the range of communicative opportunities available to affected people (from face-to-face to mediated) rather than focus on discrete technologies. Communication initiatives in disaster recovery would benefit from a media environment approach.
Slow research in emergency contexts
Ethnography – a method that requires long-term immersion in local communities – is appropriate for understanding the aftermath of disasters. The drawn out process of disaster recovery requires an empathetic and critical understanding which ethnography can reveal.
Within the humanitarian sector, agencies are encouraged to develop ways to address communication obstacles between accountability and programme teams, or within the accountability teams in the organisational hierarchy. Inter-agency coordination is also vital.
Social life of communities
Affected people are creative and active citizens who develop strategies to neutralise the effects of disaster and continue to strive for a better life for themselves and their families. Sociality and recreation through communication need to be recognized as vital for people’s well-being.