WP2: Protection of Crisis-Affected Communities & Participatory Action Research

As part of Work package 2 of the PRUV project – which is designed to address the theoretical and practical gaps in the protection of crisis-affected communities and vulnerable groups in urban settings – the team in Soacha, Colombia has chosen to conduct qualitative analysis through participatory action research methods. This is set to add to the quantitative data gathered by a household-based survey, to be undertaken in September 2017 in the Altos de la Florida neighbourhood of Soacha. Through this mixed-methods approach, new evidence-based knowledge to foster resilience in urban areas will be gathered and community action encouraged. The methods used will be a participatory, collaborative social cartography, as well as semi-structured in-depth interviews, feedback sessions, and a creative means of dissemination of data, to raise awareness within the community of protection gaps, challenges and opportunities. The Social Cartography took place in June 2017 and is detailed below.

Social Cartography Methods and Focus-Group Participants


The participants of the focus groups were divided into three: 1) women from the community, 2) men from the community and 3) NGO/Community Workers with a presence in Altos de la Florida. The first two groups were conducted simultaneously on the same day, with a feedback session set for the following week. The women’s group was led by researchers Sinead McGrath and Calen Olesen and the men’s group by researchers Pablo Ferrandez and Jose-Antonio Gutierrez, a gender analysis later being conducted by the researchers following the results. The average age of the women’s group was older than that of the men’s, with more women being heads of households and more men being young adults. The third group, composed of NGO workers, was of mixed-gender and mostly youthful in age.

The map developed by NGO staff engaged in Altos de la Florida



The social cartography involved asking the community to describe the territorial space of the comuna taking into consideration three dimensions which needed to be graphically represented: vulnerabilities, capacities, and hazards and threats.

For this task, the different sub-groups were given a large blank paper and were asked first to draw the basic points of reference: the boundaries of the comuna, particular buildings, roads, the mountain etc. In some cases, participants opted to practice on draft pages. Participants were then asked to identify vulnerabilities, capacities, and hazards and threats. Participants were also encouraged to highlight positive elements, changes in the past few years and envisage potential for transformation. Through this exercise, the research team wanted to have a clearer picture of the current situation of territory as perceived, experienced and known by the participants, but also, to know the aspirations and desires of the community. In the process, the participants would gain a clearer social-environmental picture of their territory, while at the same time starting to discuss collectively a desirable future they could all help to bring about. Thus, gaining a clear understanding of the gap between their present reality and their aspirations, they can set up strategic tasks for the humanitarian actor.

Therefore, obtaining data from the participants was not the only aim of this methodological technique, as it is designed to reflect on community construction, facilitate community reflection and, with the participation as of humanitarian and non-profit actors, to identify the gaps in expectations from between the several groups involved, to address these differences and create strategies for action.

NGO workers engaged in social cartography


Feedback and Preliminary Results


Researchers returned the following week to hold a feedback session with the women and men’s groups. Three of the women community leaders were present, and were joined by several of the men 45 minutes into the session.

The team discussed the order of the risks, as identified by both the men and women’s groups: geographical and physical risks took priority over other types of vulnerabilities. This emphasis on territorial vulnerability – such as identifying the dangers of falling rocks, unstable parts of the area, physical drops and the danger of the collapse of homes –  may come from the very use of the word ‘risk’, particularly as these factors have contributed to Altos de la Florida being earmarked as a high-risk area by several organisations and even by the City Council. It is interesting to note that women tended to focus more on environmental risks than the men, who had a rights-based approach. Social risks, such a drug use, were highlighted, although neither group saw individual drug users as a threat to anybody but themselves.

Violence, however, was highlighted in the form of social cleansing conducted by contracted killers, robberies perpetrated by outsiders (particularly members of other sectors of the neighbourhood) and gendered violence in the form of a femicide committed the weekend previous to the feedback session. There were great concerns for the safety of children travelling to school (highlighted by the men’s group and later discussed with the women as part of the feedback session) and a frustration with the lack of childcare facilities, which creates a barrier to access to the labour market, particularly for women. Access to the labour market was seen as particularly important by female participants and creativity as well as family-and-peer support deemed particularly crucial in creating this access. They noted that such support is not always present as displacement may cause a rupture in family support systems.

Access to water and to basic services such as electricity, street lighting, adequate 24-hour transport and gas were central to both discussions, with the men highlighting the illegality of the settlement and how problematic this is in terms of their rights, particularly pointing to the absence of authorities and the State. Women focused on the difficulty of obtaining water as well as the consequences of potential contamination. Lack of unity was also emphasized in terms of representation, as well as the unfortunate times of meetings of community groups, since younger members cannot participate because of school or university.


Although NGOs tended to highlight vulnerabilities in terms of their own areas of focus (drugs consumption, family leadership etc.), they also spoke of a lack of unity and participation as worrisome, also highlighting the problematic nature of their relationship with the community, in terms of ‘welfarism’, a term used directly by them. NGOs worried that individuals had a tendency to ‘talk the talk’ of each organisation so as to receive benefits from these. The NGO workers, however, spoke of their own failures in being more organised amongst themselves, with proposals for more coordination in terms of the times they run activities etc. and for having a strategic collaborative development plan for Soacha.

There was enthusiasm shown by men and women in terms of participation and the dissemination of results in the community through creative ways. Positives mentioned by all groups included the presence of social and cultural activities in the area, leadership shown by young and old – with breakdancing an excellent example in community leadership – and transformative spaces.



By | 2017-11-30T13:31:28+00:00 November 30th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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