Community Engagement


“Community engagement” is a concept closely related to “communication” and “accountability”. That humanitarian documents frequently refer to “stronger”, “greater” and “increased” community engagement may indicate a growing recognition of its importance to humanitarian action. 

The idea that community engagement was once lacking and needs improving is further reflected by common references to “sustained”, “direct” and “genuine”. The concept is at the heart of contemporary debates on localisation and local ownership of response and recovery, which require “involvement”, “mobilization”, “collaboration”, “participation”, “inclusion”, “partnership” and “linkage” with local communities and affected populations. 


  • According to the Humanitarian Practice Network (2019), “Despite promising progress, coherent and coordinated information is still not provided systematically to affected communities, and humanitarian responses take insufficient account of the views and feedback of affected people.” Why do you think this remains a challenge for humanitarian actors, and how could community engagement be improved?
  • UN OCHA defines “community engagement” on its website as “a two-way dialogue between crisis-affected communities, humanitarian organizations and, where possible, within and between communities.” From your experience, how do different communities engage within and between each other in humanitarian settings? Why might this not always be possible?
  • How do communication and accountability relate to community engagement?
  • Who should be responsible for checking the level or quality of community engagement and how could this be done?  
  • Why is community engagement important? Is it more important for creating trust with communities, or for holding aid agencies to account?
  • How does digital technology and social media affect community engagement can be done either face to face, or via technology/social media? What is the difference between community engagement in person and online?

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Please note: The overview on this page represents a first summary and exploratory analysis of the concept, proposed by the HE core team for discussion, on the basis of preliminary linguistic data. It is not the full concept entry which will be based on rigorous linguistic methodology and collaboration with humanitarian experts.

Coming soon: Expanded concept explanations, visualisations and analysis for this and 17 other COVID-19 related concepts.

The frequency of community engagement in humanitarian documents has fluctuated per year but overall shows an increasing trend since 2005. In 2018 the frequency of term spiked and in 2019, special issue 74 of Humanitarian Exchange focused on community and community engagement. 

Oceania stands out as the region most frequently referring to community engagement.  though further investigation is needed to determine why.

Project documents refer most frequently to community engagement, including the 2018 Sphere Handbook which mentions it 25 times. However, the Sphere Handbook in 2011 does not use the term “community engagement” at all, but mentions “community” over 150 times.

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