4. Participation

1.1 What participation is

1.2 Types of participation in humanitarian action

1.3 How emergencies affect participation

1.4 Why participation is important in an emergency response

Involving people in emergency response programmes requires assessment teams to first develop a rapid understanding of who the disaster-affected people are. The following tool (The good enough guide) can help establish a basic community profile.


The good enough guide, Tool 4: How to profile the affected community and assess initial needs

  • What is the background of the affected group(s)? Are they from an urban or rural background?
  • What is the approximate number of people affected and their demographic characteristics? (Include a breakdown of the population by sex, and children under five. Include numbers of 5-14 year olds, pregnant and lactating women, and those aged 60 and over, if data is available.)
  • Who are the marginalised/separated people in this population group (e.g. female-headed households, unaccompanied children, disabled, sick, elderly, ethnic minorities, etc.). Do they have specific needs? How have they been affected by the current crisis?
  • Are there are particular family, ethnic, or religious or other groupings among the affected people? Are any groups particularly hard to access?
  • Who are the key people to contact/consult? Are there any community members or elders leading the people affected by the emergency? Are there organisations with local expertise (e.g. churches, mosques or local NGOs) that can be part of decision-making?
  • What are the biggest risks, in terms of health and protection against violence, faced by the various groups of people affected by this emergency, and what agency is addressing them?


Before assessment

  • Determine and clearly state the objectives of the assessment.
  • If you can, inform the local community and local authorities well before the assessment takes place.
  • Include both women and men in the project team.
  • Make a list of vulnerable groups to be identified during the assessment.
  • Check what other NGOs have done in that community and get a copy of their reports.

During assessment

  • Introduce team members and their roles.
  • Explain the time frame for assessment.
  • Invite representatives of local people to participate.
  • Create space for individuals or groups to speak openly.
  • Hold separate discussions and interviews with different groups, e.g. local officials, community groups, men, women and local staff.
  • Ask these groups for their opinions on needs and priorities. Inform them about any decisions taken.
  • If it is not possible to consult all groups within the community at one time, state clearly which groups have been omitted on this occasion and return to meet them as soon as possible. Write up your findings and describe your methodology and its limitations. Use the analysis for future decision-making.

During project design

  • Give the findings of the assessment to local authorities and the community, including the village committee and representatives of affected groups.
  • Invite representatives of local people to participate in project design.
  • Explain to people their rights as disaster-affected people.
  • Enable the village committee to participate in project budgeting.
  • Check the project design with different groups of beneficiaries.
  • Design ‘complaints and response’ mechanisms.

During project implementation

  • Invite local community, village committee and local authorities to participate in developing criteria for selecting beneficiaries.
  • Announce the criteria and display them in a public place.
  • Invite the local community and village committee to participate in selecting beneficiaries.
  • Announce the beneficiaries and post the list in a public place.
  • Announce the complaints and response mechanisms and forum for beneficiaries to raise complaints.

During distribution

  • If recruiting additional staff for distribution, advertise openly, e.g. in newspaper.
  • Form a distribution committee comprising the village committee, government official(s) and NGO staff.
  • Consider how distribution will include the most vulnerable, such as disabled people, elderly people, and other poor or marginalised groups.
  • Give the local authority and local community a date and location for distribution in advance where safety allows.
  • List items for distribution and their cost and display the list in advance in a public place.
  • To include people living a long way from the village or distribution point, consider giving them transport costs.
  • To include vulnerable people, for example pregnant women, distribute to them first.
  • Ensure people know how to register complaints.

During monitoring

  • Invite the village committee to participate in the monitoring process.
  • Share findings with the village committee and community.

3.1 Case study: Peru

  • Seeing only vulnerabilities and not recognising capacities
  • Overburdening communities-expecting so much participation that it places additional burden on those participating
  • Expecting participation without providing assistance, e.g. spending a lot of time with communities asking questions for assessment purposes without actually delivering relief
  • Making plans and arrangements for participation which make it not possible for certain groups to participate, e.g. holding meetings at prayer time so that certain religious groups can’t attend, or at meal times when women are commonly preparing food for the family
  • Only working with people with the ‘obvious’ participants-those who step forward and overlooking other members of the community. Commonly, men are more willing to step forward to be involved than women. NGOs who don’t make a specific effort to engage women end up with many men participating but few women.

The best qualified people to assist with engaging the local community are usually also found locally. Working with local NGOs and other community groups can be the best place to find the help required to promote participation in emergency response programmes. In addition, specialists with skills in participatory methodologies and accountability can be accessed through the CERT roster (refer to Chapter 21 Human resources).

For general advice on participation, contact the Programme Quality & Accountability Coordinator in the CARE Emergency Group at emergencyQA@careinternational.org.

6.1 CARE’s programming framework

6.2 Sphere Common Standard 1: Participation

6.3 CARE’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework: Benchmark 4

6.3.1 Benchmark 4: Participation

CARE has a wealth of capacity and experience in participatory methodologies and approaches through decades of working in emergency and development programmes in over 70 countries. Many CARE staff has training in a wide range of participatory and inclusive assessment and monitoring tools. CARE’s Programme Standards Framework ensures participation of key stakeholders throughout the programme cycle.

IASC resources for gender mainstreaming in emergencies


The listening project

Humanitarian Accountability Partnership