Humanitarian UAV Guidelines on Community Engagement
Communities should be consulted and information on how UAVs will be used should be provided. Community engagement (or social engagement) is thus important and obligatory. Building trust with local communities allows them to be active partners, decision makers and enablers, thus enhancing the mission and humanitarian/development impact.
- Familiarize yourself with the local language(s), cultural norms and customs. Be sensitive to the fact that disaster affected communities may be marginalised, discriminated against, suffering or traumatized and that the use of UAVs could cause more harm than good in conflict settings. Local livelihoods and access to basic necessities may also be disrupted.
- Identify community representatives who are responsible for the geographical area you are interested to survey. If the area is relatively small, seek local community representatives. Be aware that local representative may not be so representative, as some communities may be marginalized and not represented. It’s therefore important to seek to understand the local dynamics and to ensure that your approach doesn’t discriminate those who may be the most vulnerable or who may have the greatest needs. If the survey area is larger, seek provincial or regional representatives. Meet with relevant community representatives and provide them with your credentials such as business cards, letter stating that you have legal permission from a government entity to operate UAVs, an official partnership letter from a humanitarian organization, etc.
- Manage expectations; be clear that UAV flights may not immediately and tangibly result in aid or other forms of support. Explain the purpose of your UAV mission, why it is important, with whom the data will be shared, how it will be used, and how long this data will be retained. Show the technology and examples of aerial maps/imagery to ask permission to carry out the UAV flights. Jointly identify specific flight paths: what altitudes to fly, where and when. Ensure that marginalized areas are not ignored and that suggested flight plans do not represent conflicts of interest.
- Be sure to ask whether any field based disaster damage assessments have been carried out and whether any UAV teams/pilots (international, national or local) recently carried out any aerial surveys. If one or more teams have flown in the area, contact those teams to request the imagery or propose a sharing arrangement. Also ask which areas have been most affected and which areas should be prioritized and avoided (such as military and holy sites).
- If community representatives grant you permission, then collaborate with them to publicize the mission, purpose and the proposed flight plans. Seek advice and make recommendations on how to leverage the tools to engage the community and support their needs and aspirations. Ask representatives to contact/inform the police so they are aware of the project and can assist with safety and information dissemination. Ask for guidance on how to reach out to local media (e.g., radio and newspaper) and influencers who represent diverse groups in the community including the most vulnerable groups. Produce flyers that provide an overview of your UAV mission and include contact information should community members have questions, suggestions, concerns and/or complaints. Schedule a public meeting with various civil society groups to present your mission, demo your technology and display examples of aerial imagery. This could also serve to dispel rumors, especially in conflict zones. Communicate risks and the process for documenting any incidents/accidents. Explain the proposed role of community members in potentially building UAVs, flying the UAVs and analyzing the data. Allow time for questions and answers during your public meeting. Finally, place signs up in areas where UAVs will be flying with the date and time of flight including your contact information.
- For the safety of the community, please follow safety guidelines and best practices for UAV flights—see Humanitarian UAV Missions: Towards Best Practices. Share incident/accident reports with local representatives and police.
- Assess the potential for imagery or associated information to cause harm to the community (in whole or in part) and to humanitarians on the ground. Sharing information could exacerbate tensions within the community, for example, so measures must be taken to mitigate that risk including the option of not sharing information.
- In line with the above, share your imagery both in printed and digital form with local representatives as soon as possible. At the very least, show the imagery collected by displaying it on your computer. (Naturally, this guideline may not be appropriate at all when operating in conflict zones). Ask these representatives for guidance on data privacy/protection preferences and use your best judgment. Encourage representatives to display hard copy images in public areas for all to see. Schedule another public meeting before you leave, sharing the results of your mission, any incidents/accidents and imagery collected. Explain the process for data removal. Allow time for question and answers. Refer to Humanitarian UAV Data Ethics Guidelines.
- If the application of UAVs is for payload delivery, the same protocols listed above should be taken into account. For possible payload delivery in conflict zones, remote engagement may be an option but this may also pose dangers to at-risk communities. Please see guidelines below on Conflict Sensitivity.