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Evaluation of the common service for community engagement and accountability for the Rohingya refugee response

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Executive summary

“In a nutshell [the common service] helps us to understand what is happening at the community level, especially around complaints, feedback, queries and even about rumour tracking. It’s not only focusing on a specific camp, rather it provides a holistic view of what is happening to the entire population. People are therefore able to change, improve and scale up their interventions.” - INGO practitioner As of September 2018, the Inter Sector Coordination Group estimates that 725,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 2017.1 The majority of these arrived within the first three months.

BBC Media Action, Internews and Translators without Borders have been working to improve access to information for Rohingya communities by supporting humanitarian and media agencies in their communication in the camps. The ‘Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability’ (common service) has involved a range of activities, from creating and sharing audio visual content in the Rohingya language, to training interpreters, tracking rumours circulating in the camps, supporting agencies to set up feedback mechanisms, and ensure community needs and concerns are collated and brought to the attention of responding agencies.

As the first phase of the project, funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), comes to an end, this report shares findings from the project evaluation.

A survey, conducted in July 2018, interviewed 750 people from the Rohingya community and 750 people from the host community (local Bangladeshi citizens) about how they access information, what they think of the information and how they communicate with aid providers. The survey tracked how perceived provision of information has changed since an initial information needs assessment, carried out by Internews, in October 2017.2 Key informant interviews were also carried out with agency practitioners to understand how they are using the tools and services created as part of the common service.

The survey shows that people feel substantially more informed in July 2018 than they did in October 2017. The Internews study in October found that only 23% of Rohingya men and women felt they had enough information to make good decisions for themselves and their family.3 This recent study shows that 84% feel they have enough information to make good decisions for themselves and their families and three quarters (75%) of the Rohingya community said it had become easier to get information over the last six months. This is similar to other data collected - a recent Translators without Borders study4 found that 68% of Rohingya refugees feel they have enough information to make decisions.
During fieldwork, almost a third (30%) of Rohingya survey respondents asked the data collectors questions such as, did they know where to collect relief, or did they know anything about the Government’s plans for repatriation? This suggests that while the Rohingya community feel better informed than when they first arrived, they still have many questions, particularly around their future - only 41% of respondents said they felt informed about their options for the future.

The survey showed that the current key information needs of the Rohingya and host community are around their main concerns - where to find food. The Rohingya are also worried about sourcing cooking fuel, while the host community is seeking information around financial support as a result of perceived declining employment opportunities.

Exploring further their specific information needs, it was clear that the Rohingya community feel they have enough information on health, safety and security, but feel less confident about keeping their family safe in a cyclone.

Mahjis (Rohingya community leaders) are the main source of information for Rohingya people (mentioned by 87% of participants) and are now the most trusted source of information (they were only ranked 7th in the October 2017 information needs assessment). This increase in trust may be reflective of how agencies and camp coordinators are more systematically using mahjis to share information with people in their camp block. Mahjis are the main channel through which Rohingya communities say they communicate with aid providers (mentioned by 38% of respondents).

A higher proportion of Rohingya people said they could talk to aid providers than at baseline, but 65% of Rohingya women and 49% of Rohingya men still said they couldn’t. This may be because people associate this question with foreign aid workers who don’t speak their language. When asked if aid providers spoke their language, 59% of Rohingya refugees said that some of them did, indicating they were talking about local staff. Almost a third (31%) said yes, aid providers did speak their language, 9% said no, and 1% said they didn’t know.

Rohingya people are giving feedback and are satisfied with how it is being handled. A quarter said they had given feedback or made a complaint, and 82% of these people said they were satisfied with what happened next. Face-to-face methods are the preferred method for feedback rather than mobile phones or complaints boxes: 80% said they had given feedback through talking to a mahji, 26% had spoken to an NGO staff member and 19% had visited an information hub. The biggest reported barrier to giving feedback was not knowing where to go, and this was particularly the case for women. These findings are similar to those found in the Ground Truth Solutions survey in July 2018 which shows that 67% of Rohingya refugees know how to make suggestions or complaints.

Information hubs are being visited and people who have been keep going back and would recommend them to others. One fifth of Rohingya people had visited an information hub, and the Evaluation of the Common Service for Community Engagement and Accountability for the Rohingya refugee response majority had visited more than once with 42% reporting visiting them more than four times. Some 81% said ‘yes’ when asked if any of the staff spoke Rohingya language.

The audio visual content is being used. In the survey, a quarter of Rohingya respondents had seen video content or animations designed to help people in the camps. The majority accessed this content on someone else’s mobile phone. In the key informant interviews practitioners reported that community health workers were downloading content on their mobile phones and using it to engage Rohingya community members and share important information with them.

It is difficult to determine how widely other tools and services produced as part of the common service have been used and disseminated within the response. This study found that at least 33 agencies, seven working groups and four sectors have used the services. Many of these services were bespoke, as they were requested by the organisations, demonstrating the reactive support the project was able to offer.

The key informant interviews with practitioners working within the humanitarian response indicate that the Shongjog website is the most popular tool, as a one-stop shop where ready-made content can be shared and used by different agencies. Participants reported that this has greatly increased efficiency, particularly when speed has been of the essence, such as being able to download and rapidly share information with the Rohingya community about diphtheria and the vaccination campaign. The fact that Shongjog has over 4000 unique users to date supports this.

Overall there is evidence to suggest that the information needs of the Rohingya community are being better met and the feedback mechanisms are appreciated. This study also finds evidence to suggest that humanitarian and media agencies are using the tools and services produced as part of the common service to help them communicate with the Rohingya and host community. Platforms that enable content sharing, such as the Shongjog website, are especially helpful.

This study was not able to solicit enough response from practitioners to draw strong evidence on how they are using the tools produced by the common service, and adapting their services based on advice. This will be explored in more detail in the next phase of the project.

Moving forward, it will be important to understand the role of the community influencers - mahjis, imans, and murobbis (community elders). Given the high proportion of community members who are giving feedback by speaking to mahjis, it would be interesting to explore how this channel could be used more systematically to understand communities’ needs and concerns going forward. It is important that the project does not lose momentum, and continues to ensure that there is relevant communication in the Rohingya language across all sectors.