Calm Between the Storms: How the Philippines’ Community of Practice on Community Engagement is Preparing for the Next Emergency

  • CoP members listen to a bohol earthquake survivor as she recalls the challenges she faced during the earthquake. Photo: IOM

Understanding what people need during a crisis is an essential practice for humanitarians. Assessments have been there since the development of professionalized humanitarian response from the floods of Pakistan, to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. In the Philippines, which is no stranger to regular natural calamities, the steady improvement of capturing people’s needs has been well documented.

Gil Arevalo, Humanitarian Analyst for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), recounts the history of disaster and emergencies the country has faced: “We’ve gone through years of responding to emergencies, with each response teaching us to respond more effectively.”

But not all needs are material, especially communication needs and assessing the information that people want – and need – to know as a crisis unfolds can be quite challenging. This is where the Rapid Information Communications Accountability Assessment (RICAA) tool was developed through years of emergency response experience in the Philippines.

Since it was first introduced in 2013, the RICAA tool has been utilized as part of the growing recognition that humanitarian-development agencies need to capture affected populations’ information needs.

Over the last 4 years, various humanitarian agencies involved in responding to complex emergencies in the Philippines have demonstrated good practice in capturing and responding to communities’ information needs.

With reoccurring emergencies as the new normal, a shift in strategy with a realigned focus on preparedness is necessary, one that would require updating key communications tools, including the RICAA.

A workshop was held in earthquake-affected province of Bohol, Philippines in February 2017, under the UK Department for International Development (DFID) funded Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness Program (DEPP), through the Communication for Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network.


Philippine Information Agency Representative Olive Tiu goes over the questions with one of the Bohol Earthquake Survivors. Photo: IOM

The workshop, marked the launch of a six-month, IOM-led project that aims to enhance the Common Reporting and Feedback Platform for the Community of Practice (CoP) on Community Engagement in the Philippines, with the intention of increasing preparedness capacity of the CoP and stakeholder agencies.

The workshop gathered a diverse set of agencies, from UN, international NGO, faith-based, civic, and media development organizations and this diversity of representation greatly strengthened the participatory approach used to review and improve the various tools and platforms used.

While regularly utilized in emergency responses in the Philippines since 2012, there have not been sufficient opportunities to review and modify the communications and feedback tools and platforms used.

Given that extreme weather is increasing across the globe and emergencies will continue to threaten vulnerable populations, it is essential to re-focus efforts on preparedness and shift to a strategy that best utilizes pre-crisis information, as well as ensure communications tools and platforms are inclusive.

The IOM DEPP seeks to accomplish the following:

  • Making the RICAA Inclusive and Efficient, ensuring it captures various cross-cutting themes, and also is flexible in various situations and stages of an emergency.
  • Meaningful Data Visualization that utilizes information that various agencies can use, and will be a coherent common platform, and storage of information to enable decision makers to make efficient interventions that factor in the community’s needs.
  • Exploring and developing effective contingencies that are interoperable to the RICAA and Community Response Map (CRM), an inter-agency online feedback platform. As technological challenges inevitably arise, it is necessary to explore and develop alternative methods of collecting information.

IOM Community Engagement Officer, Miguel Almario expressed optimism in the project: “The CoP in the Philippines has a strong track record of working together. We’ve seen this in many emergencies like Typhoon Haiyan and the Bohol earthquake. Platforms like Community Response Map will only get better through this project, which will make our systems of gathering feedback become interoperable, and interface well with many different agencies.”

IOM, the UN Migration Agency has been one of the lead agencies in the frontline of emergency response in the Philippines, from handling the displacement issues of the Zamboanga Siege, to operating an intricate humanitarian operation in Typhoon Haiyan.

This project provides an opportunity to contribute further to improving the way humanitarians respond to key concerns of crisis-affected populations: receiving timely and accurate information to help them make informed decisions during a crisis.


Participants of the RICAA workshop introduce themselves to the community. Photo: IOM