Although much of our work focuses on vulnerable populations, evaluators, researchers, social scientists and development practitioners often minimise the risks of going into high risk areas. We work with communities who are welcoming and share our intentions to keep them and the field work team safe.
Much of the work Creative Consulting & Development Works does is conducted in high risk communities with many social and economic challenges. Issues like unemployment, gangsterism, inequality, substance abuse, poverty, poor policing and a lack of community cohesion mean the chosen fieldwork sites and locations can pose far higher risks than we expect. Many of these locations are densely populated urban areas, commonly townships.
It is against this resource-poor backdrop that there are increasing possibilities of crime and violence. This poses great risks for researchers and evaluators working in such communities.
Many of our partner organisations and clients, community and emergency workers, nonprofits and community-based organisations also face risks on a daily basis when they work in high risk areas.
When identifying fieldwork sites, assess the risk of crime and threats to personal safety. Consider the interaction between people, equipment and the environment. Take time to understand the mindset of the particular community. Explore and consider the nuanced contextual issues.
Immersing oneself in the context and resultant issues, provides insight and the ability to foresee risks that may not have been clear otherwise.
Conduct risk assessments on each site and engage with the field work site to better understand all potential risks. Contact other similar organisations working in that area to help verify information.
If a site is too high a risk, consider alternative sites or work with community-based field work teams. Local community-based field work managers may also add real value to your team. Work with local leaders and representatives, like civic leaders, street committees, church elders and community police forums to gain access to a community. This can help build trust and facilitate safer community access.
Identify safe points of access and times of entry and exit. Ensure that research teams exit areas before dusk.
Strengthen and improve existing risk management strategies. A risk strategy involves the identification and recognition of hazards. It should also outline appropriate hazard controls. It is a plan that outlines all potential eventualities and details the processes and policies to follow in all circumstances. Ensure your organisation’s risk strategy is current, relevant and covers all eventualties.
Risks include challenges like exposure to a contagious health risk such as visiting a hospital where there is perhaps an outbreak of XDR Tubercolosis, working in a local community where service delivery protests are underway, or engaging with communities who are targeted for a particular reason (like during outbreaks of xenophobic violence).
Crisis communication plans are helpful when dealing with challenges as and when they occur. These plans help ensure consistent messaging and provide emergency contact information if needed.
Finally, arrange debriefing and/or counselling sessions for any team members who are exposed to challenging environments or conditions in the field.
We hope that sharing these learnings will assist others in the development sector to ensure safety and mitigate risks when working in high risk areas in the field. We’d like to learn from you too — share your field work learnings with everyone on the comments below.
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