A Focus on Community Engagement

Community engagement is commonly regarded as a crucial entry point for gaining access and securing trust during humanitarian emergencies. In this article, we present three case studies of community engagement encounters during the West African Ebola outbreak. They represent strategies commonly implemented by the humanitarian response to the epidemic: communication through comités de veille villageois in Guinea, engagement with NGO-affiliated community leadership structures in Liberia and indirect mediation to chiefs in Sierra Leone. These case studies are based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out before, during and after the outbreak by five anthropologists involved in the response to Ebola in diverse capacities. Our goal is to represent and conceptualise the Ebola response as a dynamic interaction between a response apparatus, local populations and intermediaries, with uncertain outcomes that were negotiated over time and in response to changing conditions. Our findings show that community engagement tactics that are based on fixed notions of legitimacy are unable to respond to the fluidity of community response environments during emergencies.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs