A Voice for the Unheard

Voices of Change gives people a say in projects that impact their communities. It has the power to improve the entire humanitarian landscape.

A girl stands among a crowd of classmates and smiles at the camera.
02 February 2022

Working in fragile communities is extremely challenging. Humanitarians make important decisions that impact lives—but they don’t always have the knowledge or local insight to make the right choices. Between language barriers and a pressure to act quickly in crisis situations, many humanitarian programmes are designed and executed without local feedback and intel. Hearing what the community wants and needs is so important, and yet, many projects skip this step.

For most humanitarian initiatives, feedback presents a wonderful opportunity to improve programme design. By adopting good ideas and pivoting based on local intel, humanitarian organizations can save time and money, all while improving impact. UNICEF conducts situation analyses, needs assessments, and other community consultation processes to determine contextual preferences and needs. However, these processes aren’t easy to facilitate during the sudden onset of emergencies. Though some platforms have been developed to collect community insights and feedback, gaps remain in the systematic documentation, analysis, and use of feedback in planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. So how can humanitarian programmes begin consulting the community, hearing their needs and complaints?

With this question in mind, UNICEF developed Voices of Change—a system that allows people to share feedback and raise concerns about service providers working in their communities. Voices of Change uses a mix of online, offline, phone-based, and face-to-face channels that can be deployed as contextually appropriate. Adapting to each market, the Voices of Change feedback mechanism could take shape as a call centre in one country, and an online form in another. No matter the channel, the platform allows people to reach out and provide feedback related to the implementation of UNICEF interventions. Additionally, Voices of Change provides a way for individuals to report suspected instances of sexual exploitation or abuse to a neutral party that they trust. Though humanitarian crises present opportunities for abuse, UNICEF has a zero-tolerance policy and is working to end exploitation across the sector. Voices of Change allows community members to play a more active role in humanitarian initiatives, ultimately informing important decisions and improving service delivery. 

“As local committees, we know that we have the right to provide suggestions and submit complaints to relevant organizations working in our areas. We also know that we can raise our voices and participate in decisions that affect our lives, and the community. Some organizations accept all suggestions, comments and complaints provided by us and take them seriously. On the other hand, other organizations do not consider any complaint or suggestion coming from the community.”

Focus group participant in Westbank, State of Palestine

UNICEF piloted Voices of Change in Yemen as part of its Emergency Cash Transfer (ECT) Project. The project operated a call centre out of the UNICEF premises and was also linked to RapidPro, UNICEF’s open-source messaging platform that enables direct contact with a high number of people, allowing those who submit feedback to receive prompt responses. In addition to the phone line, UNICEF developed a special mobile application to collect feedback from people without network connections, ensuring beneficiaries living in remote areas were also able to submit feedback. Overall, satisfaction with the feedback process was very high, with 84 per cent of respondents highly satisfied and 14 per cent satisfied. This high level of satisfaction demonstrates that the feedback mechanism not only functioned well, but was embraced community. In fact, in total, the call centre fielded approximately 300,000 inquiries related to the ECT Project. 

Following the success of the pilot, this ‘integrated platforms approach’ is being rolled out in five additional countries: Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Jordan, State of Palestine, and Sudan. The goal is to eventually roll out the initiative to even more countries, ensuring that UNICEF and partners are accountable to the populations they serve. Though operating costs are relatively low, to ensure sustainability, UNICEF aims to partner with the private sector, especially local and regional communication service providers.

Children walk to school in Yemen.

“As local women's representatives, we formed a small committee among us, consisting of five members, to raise any complaints or suggestions to the aid organization’s management in Jerusalem.

Fear of scandals, especially in the sensitive sexual assault and abuse cases, has prevented the community members from submitting their complaints to the relevant organizations.”

Focus group participant in Jerusalem.

Expanding the scope of this proven feedback mechanism will ensure that community voices are heard. UNICEF believes community perspectives should be integrated into the design, implementation, and evaluation of programmes, and Voices of Change provides a platform for those supported by UNICEF programmes to participate in the process. This feedback process ultimately makes humanitarian programmes more impactful.

Voices of Change is part of the Humanitarian Innovation Portfolio at UNICEF. The Global Innovation Portfolios align technical and financial resources to promising projects that can accelerate results for children in key focus areas, including Learning, Water and Sanitation, Maternal and Child Health, Climate Change, Gender Equality, Youth, Immunization, and Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing. By bringing these proven solutions to more countries, UNICEF’s Office of Innovation strives to strategically and efficiently address some of the biggest challenges facing children. 

Continue exploring the Office of Innovation website to learn about the many innovative solutions and technologies the team is bringing to scale.