Although there is no agreed and established definition of participation among the humanitarian community, all existing ­initiatives to assure quality humanitarian assistance, such as the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and the Code of Conduct of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, underline the crucial importance of community participation.

As described in Chapter 1, About Camp Management, participation is one of the foundations of camp management. Participation is central to upholding the basic rights of displaced populations to, and improving the effectiveness of, protection and assistance provided in camps. The aim of participation in camp settings is not just to give a voice to different groups among the displaced communities, but to go further and ensure that they are heard and take part in decisions affecting their lives.


The Sphere Projects Core Standard 1: People-Centred Humanitarian Response

“The first core standard recognises that the participation of disaster-affected people – women, men, girls and boys of all ages – and their capacity and strategies to survive with dignity are integral to humanitarian response.” Sphere Project 2011. Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response.


Participation is also one of the five IASC's commitments on accountability to affected populations (leadership, transparency, feedback and complaints, participation and design, monitoring and evaluation). On-going community participation throughout each phase of a camp’s life cycle will facilitate continuous feedback to all relevant stakeholders. This will enable appropriate actors to make adjustments and will ensure that the humanitarian response remains relevant to the population’s needs.

☞ For more information on accountability, see Chapter 1, About Camp Management and Chapter 2, Roles and Responsibilities.


What is Community Participation in Camp Management?

The Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) Cluster defines community participation as a process that requires planning and resources and where individuals and groups from the displaced community identify and express their own views and needs and where collective action is taken to significantly contribute to solutions. When applied to all necessary sectors of activity throughout a camp’s life cycle, community participation will reduce dependencies and vulnerabilities.


Participation, as part of strategic planning and design, should be included during assessments, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Participation may take many forms, from participating in celebrations and cultural events, to participating in decision-making and the running of projects. The level of involvement, responsibility and power varies for each setting. Facilitating a participatory approach is often a long-term and complex process with many challenges. It is important for the Camp Management Agency to carry out an in-depth context analysis, in accordance with relevant stakeholders, to define realistic and achievable participation goals for the specific context.

The aim of this chapter is to provide the Camp Management Agency with the insights to encourage, facilitate and enable camp populations to play an active role in decision-making. Participation is a far-reaching topic and this chapter does not provide an exhaustive list of methodologies. Additional guidance is provided in the Tools and References sections at the end of the chapter.


Why Is Participation Important?

Participation Empowers Communities

Populations living in camps because of natural disasters or in times of conflict become more vulnerable to deprivation, violations of their basic human rights, violence and abuse. They find themselves, to a large extent, reliant on others for goods and services that they are normally able to provide for themselves. Participation, especially in camp governance, mitigates these effects by giving people back the opportunities to make choices and restore some sense of normality and dignity. Participation and ownership are essential elements of post-crisis psycho-social recovery. By creating opportunities for people to solve problems, participation will contribute to increasing self-esteem and help overcome trauma. Participation reduces the feeling of dependency, helps to increase self-reliance and may contribute to developing skills for life after displacement.

Participation Improves Camp Management

Community participation helps to improve the appropriateness of assistance and protection which are the main responsibilities of a Camp Management Agency. It allows for the better identification of priority needs and ensures that local capacities are taken into account. Making use of local knowledge and community skills will contribute to sustainability of services delivered. Dialogue between the camp population, host community and all other stakeholders may help to reduce project costs, increase coverage and promote time-effectiveness. Community participation in camp management increases interest in camp life and results in improved services, security and project outcomes.


Two-way Communication

Communication activities in a camp are essential for the promotion of meaningful community participation and stakeholder accountability. Camp residents’ views regarding life in the camp should be taken into consideration and they should be included in most decision-making processes. Two-way communication implies that a dialogue exists between two parties. Information is transmitted from partners to camp residents and from camp residents to partners. It is from this transparent and constant dialogue concerning daily camp challenges that community participation becomes effective. In addition to direct contacts with the camp population, it is increasingly common to use media and new technologies such as text messaging and websites to promote dialogue within the camp.