It sounds obvious, but if you want to know what people affected by conflict and violence really need, you should first try listening to them.

Once you have this information, you must then ensure it reaches the right desk so that it generates the appropriate humanitarian response.

For the past five years, a growing network of Community Contact Centers (CCCs) has been improving the ICRC’s ability to handle, track and respond to questions, requests and feedback from affected communities.

Key to this success is a customer relationship management (CRM) platform, which processes all this data in a secure and systematic way.

Two-way communication

Today the ICRC has CCCs in 17 delegations, including the Philippines, Ethiopia, Iraq, Ukraine and, more recently, Myanmar.

Last year they dealt with more than 150,000 inquiries.

So what kind of impact are the CCCs having?

“The CCC project recently underwent an independent external evaluation, and one of the main questions was whether they are contributing to our accountability in the delegations where they are present. The answer is yes, they are making a difference,” says Jasmina Marjanovic, the ICRC’s Community Contact Centers application manager.

“Another key question is whether we are bringing feedback management to a level where we can expect some impact – where the data we collect changes the way we operate. And there has been documented progress in this regard.”

The CCCs use several communication channels:

  • toll-free or regular phone calls
  • emails and social media messages
  • in-person visits to a CCC office where people can speak directly with an operator

They are looking into integrating more communication channels such as SMS or WhatsApp messages.

Feedback management

The ICRC’s biggest CCC is in Ukraine, employing 20 staff in Kyiv. There are around 90 CCC staff worldwide.

Each CCC has its own CRM dashboard – the ICRC uses Microsoft Dynamics – which breaks down incoming data in terms of theme, location, contact method, the total number of cases and their status, and which ICRC team is responsible for dealing with the inquiry.

CCC teams work closely with other ICRC units, such as economic security (EcoSec), water & habitat, health and communications, to ensure messages reach the right people.

There is also a centralized institutional CRM dashboard, which gives a global overview of the entire CCC network.

Community Contact Centers - institutional CRM dashboard

Centralized institutional CRM dashboard of the Community Contact Centers

In 2023, EcoSec activities – cash and food programmes, health and livelihood assistance – accounted for roughly two-thirds of inquiries worldwide; Restoring Family Links – tracing missing people – made up around a fifth of the total.

“We have seen the value of CCCs in terms of being there for people, addressing their concerns, responding to them and staying in touch. We have also seen how important this can be for the ICRC’s acceptance and reputation. A good example of this would be in Ukraine after the escalation in 2022 when questions were being asked of the ICRC’s response,” says Marjanovic.

“Just being there and picking up the phone, even if you are only able to answer a small fraction of calls, is a powerful message. Scaling up the Ukraine CCC to be able to respond to more calls made a huge difference.”

Expanding network

Ethel Sembrano, an Accountability to Affected People (AAP) delegate, used to supervise the Philippines CCC and is now working with the Ukraine CCC. She says there is no doubt that they are making a difference:

“The CCC allows us to ensure that feedback always gets managed. Also the statistics and analysis of received feedback provide us with evidence on which to base our recommendations for improving programmes and services.”

It looks likely that the CCC network will continue to expand: one of the recommendations of the evaluation is for CCCs to be deployed in the ICRC’s 20 largest operational delegations.

Marjanovic cautions, however, that the CCCs are still very much a work in progress. She speaks of the past five years as being the “first phase” and says challenges remain.

For one, the ICRC has yet to introduce a standard approach to feedback management. In addition, there are technology gaps that need to be bridged before the CCCs can fulfil their full potential.

Pain points

To give one example, the call management system – Skype for Business – is not integrated with the CRM. This means staff must manually upload data into the CRM.

“This is a major piece that is missing and preventing us from offering a full CCC solution. Moving forwards there needs to be integration between the call management system and the data entry system. This is essential,” says Marjanovic.

“We have reached a point where we can now see the benefits in standardizing data collection, workflows and reporting. If we want to take feedback management to the next level – putting people at the centre in line with the ICRC’s institutional strategy – then we need to continue investing and fix some of the main pain points. Our aim is to have a seamless user experience.”

Community Contact Centers form an integral part of the ICRC’s Digitization of Operations Strategy. This aims to ensure multichannel two-way engagement with people in need and improve performance and quality through data.

Indu Nepal, Head of the AAP Unit, says the CCCs are making it easier for communities to communicate with the ICRC, complementing other options such as face-to-face exchanges.

“The new CCC updates that are planned will further increase these options. But a solution like the CCCs is just one part of the feedback loop. For it to succeed, all staff need to value and incorporate feedback from affected people in their work,” she says.