Case Study of Post-Earthquake Haiti Shows that Audience Research Improves Effectiveness of Aid
Information matters, especially for individuals affected by severe crises like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. But critically, new research shows that listening to audiences may be just as important.
A new paper based on research done for Internews’ humanitarian information radio program launched in Haiti after the earthquake shows that information is a critical component of any humanitarian assistance or development program. Marcus Garcia, owner of the Haitian radio station Melody FM, made the point plain and simple: “Information is as important as food.”
The paper argues that determining what information to provide shouldn’t be a top-down process determined by aid agencies or media organizations. Rather, audience research provides an important mechanism for understanding information needs during times of crises. In designing its daily humanitarian information radio program Enfomasyon Nou Dwe Konnen (ENDK – News You Can Use), Internews used research as a fundament part of a broader media project.
Over the period examined in this report, March 2010 to March 2011, Internews surveyed nearly 16,000 Haitians and conducted two sets of focus group studies with 488 others.
As Internews’ research shows, in Haiti, radio is a cost-effective, ubiquitous and credible news source. ENDK, produced locally by Haitian journalists with support from Internews, reported directly on concerns that Haitians identified as most important to them in the year after the earthquake, a year that included a destructive hurricane, a cholera epidemic and election violence. ENDK has “closed the loop” on assistance provision by connecting it directly to the information needs of people living throughout Haiti, especially in the areas hardest hit by the earthquake.
Findings from the audience research clearly show that ENDK is a success. It provides important humanitarian information through the radio, which is the main means of media access for the vast majority of Haitians as well as the one in which they have the most confidence .
The study also reveals that, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, men and women do not have substantially different priorities in their information needs. Another surprising finding was that people’s information needs did not vary depending on the state of their homes following the earthquake.
The most important finding of the study was that information needs did not change radically over time, even within a changing emergency response and recovery context and where the population’s information needs appeared to be met. If unexpected, the findings support the fundamental argument of this paper, which is that outside aid groups cannot and should not presume to know what a population’s information needs will be following a crisis of any type. The only way to truly discover those needs is to ask.
The paper is authored by Jennifer Mandel, PhD, Director of Knowledge Management & Development, Internews Haiti, and Erich Sommerfeldt, PhD, University of Maryland, College Park. Internews’ work in Haiti is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund, the Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development/Office of Transition Initiatives (USAID/OTI), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNO-CHA) and numerous individual donors.
Read or download the report: Closing the Loop — Responding to Information Needs in Haiti