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How can media help? Research from six humanitarian crises.

Nicola Bailey

Research manager

To coincide with World Humanitarian Day, BBC Media Action has launched a new humanitarian microsite, which uses data from six of its humanitarian evaluations to build evidence on how media can help people affected by crises. This blog originally appeared on Evidence Aid.

BBC Media Action has been broadcasting ‘Lifeline’ programmes to support communities affected by humanitarian crises since 2001.

Research is central to how BBC Media Action works. Understanding the needs and priorities of the audience is crucial for developing good media content, and rigorous research helps us understand programmes’ impact. This dedication to audience research, even in crisis situations, was one of the things that really struck me when I started working at BBC Media Action four years ago.

In 2015, the organisation decided to pull together data from four humanitarian project evaluations, to understand what role media can play for audiences affected by crises across the world. This synthesis involved recoding qualitative data from these evaluations into a research framework, which applies the OECD-DAC criteria (which are widely used in humanitarian evaluations) to media interventions.

We have now expanded what started as a report into a microsite, with data and videos illustrating humanitarian programming from crises in Lebanon and Jordan, Gaza, West Africa, Nepal, Somalia and Bangladesh.

For me, the most interesting finding is the similarity in how people affected by different crises feel about Lifeline programmes. People appreciated hearing voices of people like them sharing their experiences and solutions. Many said that the programmes made them feel more hopeful and less isolated. The synthesis has helped us understand what is most important to people affected by crisis, namely accurate, practical information; empathetic presenters who speak the language of the listener and represent their situation fully; and having a platform to voice concerns and hold government and aid agencies to account.

It has also highlighted challenges: while mass media is good at reaching many people quickly on a wide range of topics, it struggles to provide hyper localised information, such as the status of health clinics or where to buy building materials. This is where partnerships between local media and humanitarian partners are so important, and much of the evidence speaks to the importance of strong partnerships. For example, audiences say they trust information when they hear the same thing from different sources.

Coordination between media and humanitarian partners on the ground is crucial to achieve consistency, and programme makers are reliant on humanitarian partners sharing up-to-date, reliable information on air. The benefits of building trust between humanitarian and media partners before a crisis are discussed in the ‘preparedness’ case studies on the microsite.

Partnerships are important in research too. Sharing research in crises helps us to build the evidence on what role communication initiatives can play. For example, in the Rohingya response, similar studies carried out by BBC Media Action and our partners Internews and Translators without Borders at different time points, have shown a steady increase in the proportion of Rohingya refugees who feel they have enough information to make decisions for themselves and their families – providing evidence that our consortium project is doing something right.

BBC Media Action uses a research framework to guide our evaluation of humanitarian projects. This allows us to systematically build the evidence base for the role of media in a crisis. We hope that humanitarian and media partners will use and build on this framework, so that we can continue to develop our understanding of what does and doesn’t work during these crises, and work together to build an evidence base that will improve decision making in the future.

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