Since 2013, the region of Diffa in south-eastern Niger has become the temporary home of more than 200,000 displaced persons. Among them are both Nigerian refugees and internally displaced Nigeriens, all of whom have fled the violence of the Boko Haram conflict. As is the case in many contemporary displacement contexts, most of the crisis-affected people do not live in refugee or IDP camps. Rather, they have settled in semi-urban areas, where they live alongside host communities. Such a displacement pattern presents many unresolved challenges to humanitarian actors, most crucially the challenge of how to effectively and reliably gather information on the needs of both displaced and host populations in out of camp areas.
IMPACT and ACTED’s newly launched initiative, AGORA, is currently testing an innovative approach to data collection and information management in out-of-camp displacement settings. It combines an area-based approach, used to delineate and understand ‘community areas’, with Social Network Analysis Theory, applied to identify the most reliable ‘key informants’ for each area. This methodology is developed in close partnership with UNHCR and with the support of the U.S. Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Building on lessons learned from the first field pilot of this approach implemented in Mafraq, Jordan, between January and May 2017, the same approach is now being tested in the less urbanized displacement setting of the Diffa region, Niger.
Two key phases characterise the new Diffa pilot. In the first phase (September 2017), inhabitants of the town of Diffa were engaged in participatory mapping exercises to identify their ‘community areas.’ These are the areas of the town as they are experienced by Diffa’s inhabitants on an everyday basis. As such, community areas provide relevant starting points for context-sensitive needs assessments, while potentially serving as geographic units for area-based humanitarian responses. This marked the first time large parts of Diffa town were mapped. In addition, to collect information on the needs of communities, people who are particularly knowledgeable about the situation, also known as ‘key informants,’ were identified for each community area. Then, in order to identify the most central and reliable key informants, their social networks and mutual relationships were mapped drawing on insights from Social Network Analysis Theory.
The second phase (October-November 2017) aims to better understand the quality of information provided by key informants about their communities and test whether this quality is related to the position key informants have within their network. To do so, two types of data will be collected and compared. On the one hand, a statistically representative survey of 4,800 households will be carried out throughout the identified community areas, focusing on households’ displacement history and basic needs with regards to shelter; food security; health care; education; and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In parallel, between 50 and 100 key informants for each area will be interviewed about the same topics. By comparing the two types of data, the reliability of different key informants can be assessed and the underlying network patterns better understood.
The insights obtained in both pilots of Mafraq and Diffa (together with those of an upcoming third pilot) will be translated into a ready-to-use toolbox in 2018, aimed at facilitating area-based data collection among refugee and host communities in out-of-camp displacement contexts. Through this project, AGORA seeks to contribute to a continuously improving response to changing humanitarian needs in a variety of crisis settings.