Peace & Security13 Jun 2011Dayna Brown

At the recent WCHS, a panel on listening to those affected by aid efforts fell under the “innovations” category. But listening to those whom we are intending to help shouldn’t be seen as an innovation—it should be standard practice. This is what people on the receiving end of aid efforts think—and which those of us providing aid need to think about seriously. The Listening Project has listened to nearly 6,000 people in aid recipient societies about their experiences with aid efforts, and they say it is important for humanitarians to listen to them in order to:

  • “Learn about the real circumstances”
  • “Show respect for peoples’ ideas and opinions”
  • “Know what kind of assistance would be most useful”
  • “Avoid poor project designs”
  • “Help us solve our problems together”
  • “Know if your projects have made a difference”

Over and over, people equate better listening with better outcomes.

So, why do aid agencies have a hard time listening?

  1. The aid system limits opportunities and incentives for listening in open-ended ways.
  2. Lack of or poor listening and analytical skills among staff and local partners.
  3. Arrogance—as some recipients said, “They assume they will know.”
  4. Local people don’t have the same level of power and influence.

What can we do to listen and communicate better?

  • Be present, visit more often, stay longer
  • Verify information provided by “key stakeholders” and partners
  • Provide information back to people so they know their voices have been heard
  • Provide opportunities for people to give feedback, ask questions, and get responses
  • Incentivize and systematize listening skills and practices

Read our Issue Paper on The Importance of Listening to hear more voices and the challenges faced by humanitarians to listen to those we intend to help.