NGOs and User-Generated Content in Humanitarian Crises

The Humanitarian News Research Network’s Dr. Glenda Cooper recently spoke at a panel at the University of Sussex focusing on how NGOs mediate the voice of the vulnerable other in humanitarian crises and situations.

Image:  A group of girls coming back from the well. / UNHCR / F. Noy / December 2011

By Carolina Are

According to Dr. Cooper’s research, in some cases NGOs’ communications officers are now scaling back on the use of User-Generated Content (UGC) in favour of a form of mediation with the public. However, the main shift in the material released by these organisations seems to be the commitment to making the voices of minority groups within humanitarian situations heard. After consideration of previous news coverage and information sharing, Dr. Cooper states that NGOs are now trying to follow the principles of:

  • Mitigation: relief work must strive to reduce future vulnerability to disaster and meet basic needs;
  • Transparency: NGOs hold themselves accountable to those they seek to provide aid to as well as to those from whom they accept resources;
  • Dignity: all content produced and released by NGOs sets out to recognise disaster victims as dignified human beings.

Although NGOs are committing to making the voices of those involved in humanitarian crises heard, they seem to be putting the reins on their use of UGC. Even though humanitarian practitioners viewed UGC stories as successful human interest content, they also expressed doubts about the benefits of this approach for those involved. For instance, although Save The Children’s global media unit sees UGC as vital to their brand’s visibility, its priority is to ensure consistent messaging across the world.

In her talk, Dr. Cooper also covered the ever-changing issue of informed consent in research conducted in the internet age, quoting one of her research participants in saying:

Informed consent in this day and age includes making sure that the person giving consent is aware that their identity could well be seen worldwide, and that their government might well become very quickly aware of what they’ve said.”

The “Opportunities for Research: Humanitarian Narratives, Representational Strategies, and I/NGO Structures” panel on January 17 looked at which platforms are available to academics and institutions to share humanitarian narratives research and collaborate. The event focused on the institutional structures that shape humanitarian narratives and the obstacles academics and practitioners face in humanitarian settings, together with possible solutions to overcome them. The panel also featured:

• Siobhan Warrington, Director, Oral Testimony Works, and author of The People in the Pictures: the vital perspectives on Save the Children’s image making
• Anne-Meike Fechter, Reader in Anthropology, University of Sussex
• Gauthier Marchais, Research Fellow – Conflict and Violence Cluster, Institute of Development Studies
• Tom Elkins, Chief Executive Officer, PhotoVoice

The event was supported by the Doctoral School’s Researcher-Led Initiative (RLI) Fund.