How Deep Listening Can Inform Stabilization Programming in Conflict-affected Cabo Delgado Province

February 21, 2023

This blog introduces and puts into context an ongoing deep listening process in Cabo Delgado led by UNDP and its partner, the Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC) – and outlines how the work carried out is part of a global movement to develop new ways of addressing complex development issues.

In this case, of a street market – are one of many data sources used in deep listening processes to analyse developments on the ground and design activities tailored to communities’ needs.

Agirre Lehendakaria Center/Fernanda de Barros

Towards a new approach to community listening in crisis contexts

Working to resolve complex, interconnected development challenges in crisis-affected Cabo Delgado province, UNDP is building new ways to integrate communities’ perceptions and narratives in the design and implementation of portfolios of interventions. Beyond traditional community consultations, ‘deep listening’ processes allow UNDP to connect with real-time community-sentiments and convictions, as well as implicit narratives. Coupled with system mapping and sensemaking, these processes help UNDP and partners deliver strategic development interventions, crucial for system change. 


An armed conflict that has been going on for more than five years in northern Mozambique has left more than one million people internally displaced in Cabo Delgado, Inhambane, Nampula, Niassa and Zambezia provinces[1]. Violent attacks by non-state armed groups (NSAGs) have systematically targeted symbols of the State and public infrastructures such as roads, schools, hospitals, and public buildings, leaving them in ruins and the attacked communities covered in debris. This situation forced mass internal displacement into host communities and resettlement sites. Access to agricultural fields among the displaced has been severely restricted, impacting the food security and economic situation in the communities.


UNDP’s response in northern Mozambique

UNDP is working with the Government of Mozambique on an area-based stabilization programme that aims to meet the population’s immediate needs following the outbreak of armed conflict. The intervention builds on decades of experience that UNDP has in stabilization in other conflict-affected countries and regions and seeks to re-build social infrastructure and restore trust of citizens in the State.

The aim is to encourage a return to normality and enable conditions for safe and voluntary return of displaced people, reinforcing the social contract between the State and citizens. To do this, UNDP is working to re-establish the State presence and restore the infrastructure necessary for providing essential services, such as in the health, education, water and sanitation, and security and justice sectors. Large-scale infrastructure rehabilitation is coupled with livelihood interventions and socio-economic support, as well as the reinforcement of community security mechanisms.

Stabilization activities only work if implemented at speed – therefore, interventions started already in 2021, making UNDP one of the first actors present in districts where the State recently reclaimed control. Stabilization is also only possible if working at scale, which is why UNDP is active across multiple sectors in all the six most conflict-affected districts in Cabo Delgado (Macomia, Quissanga, Mocimboa da Praia, Muidumbe, Nangade and Palma).

School in a community in Cabo Delgado where UNDP conducted deep listening

Agirre Lehendakaria Center/Fernanda de Barros

From community consultations to deep listening

Community consultations are part and parcel of all of UNDP’s programming. In the stabilization interventions, consultations are conducted to inform the district Joint Action Plans, which outline the priorities to be addressed. However, beyond these consultations, more can be done to put people at the centre of the interventions and ensure accountability to the communities we serve.

In a crisis context, where needs and conditions are fluid and can shift on a monthly, sometimes daily basis, we need to continuously have our finger on the pulse to learn what the communities are feeling and be sensitive to new or previously undiscovered dynamics in the communities. We need to regularly assess and understand perceptions, barriers, challenges and opportunities relating to issues such as returns of IDP to their places of origin and the provision of basic services to sustain their return.

We must have direct lines of contact with affected communities and work with them to create new portfolio options that are fit to address changing needs. Against this backdrop, we asked ourselves if a traditional community listening process would be sufficient - or whether we need to challenge ourselves in the way in which we could learn more about community needs.

A traditional approach to community listening during project implementation consists of informally collecting feedback from communities on interventions and using this information for day-to-day decision-making about the interventions, to identify gaps and challenges that need to be immediately addressed for activities to be sustainable and impactful. This type of traditional listening process, however, has three limitations:

  1. It does not feature any systematic recording of communities’ feedback in forms that allow us to analyze this feedback over time. As such, with staff turnover, valuable insights risk getting lost.
  2. Relatedly, because communities’ views are not recorded in formats that allow systematic analysis, feedback from communities would typically inform short-term adaptation of activities, but not strategic decision-making later down the line.
  3. Traditional community consultations record communities’ explicit views about interventions but do not dive deeper into how communities perceive the challenges they are confronting.


So how can UNDP better keep a finger on the pulse of what is happening on the ground?

To explore this further, UNDP partnered with the Agirre Lehendakaria Center (ALC). Working with UNDP Country Offices across the world - such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Uruguay - UNDP and ALC have been coordinating and implementing bottom-up listening processes, system mapping and sensemaking to inform portfolios of interconnected interventions designed to continuously generate a supply of options, supporting the delivery of strategic development impact and system transformation.

This brings UNDP closer to affected communities and reinforces their agency in the design and implementation of activities. The deep listening not only connects UNDP with real-time community feedback but also allows UNDP to consider hidden perceptions and underlying convictions among the local population and project stakeholders – assumptions that all too often are not considered in project design but are crucial for projects’ success.

Moreover, the deep listening process integrates tailored tools for storing and systematically analyzing data from the community listening. This capacity, enriched by systems mapping and ongoing opportunities for sensemaking, allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of what is happening to generate new options for our interventions.

Building on UNDP’s lessons learnt and experience working with deep listening globally, we started integrating the methodology of deep listening in our stabilization interventions and broader engagement in northern Mozambique in September 2022. In the following months, the first round of ‘deep listening’ data was collected. We are now analyzing the data, and through the various listening channels, we are starting to delve into the complex system of actors and interactions impacting ongoing violence in Cabo Delgado and the related impacts on the civilian population.

One key finding is that the affected people are not uniform in their perceptions of their willingness to return to conflict-affected areas. There are those who have a very strong attachment to their land and are willing to return to their areas of origin even if these places are not perceived as safe. Others would only like to return if they have their houses reconstructed or access better socio-economic opportunities, whereas still others (often younger people with more education) do not wish to return because they see their future in other areas of the country or abroad.

This shows how perceptions and preferences regarding development options are not uniform – development policies and interventions must recognize this and adapt to the diverse preferences and perceptions of different segments of society.

We are already seeing how a systemic, ‘deep-listening’ approach is enabling us to build an understanding of the collective narratives and different ways of interpreting reality that are operating in the region, collecting patterns of people’s lived experiences and how these are shaped by underlying values and behaviors, as well as emerging needs, challenges, and opportunities.

With time, this understanding has the potential to increasingly enable the interconnection of UNDP and other initiatives and stakeholders, and to improve government decision-making so that their initiatives connect within co-created portfolios that address systemic challenges and align with citizens' perceptions and lived experiences. In parallel to this, this systemic approach will enhance our capability to learn about what is going on within the communities where we are working and reflect this back to the design of policy options and development interventions.

UNDP and ALC staff members working on system mapping to outline interdependencies and gaps among interventions currently taking place in Cabo Delgado

Agirre Lehendakaria Center/Fernanda de Barros

What’s next?

Introducing new capabilities and methods of operation can be challenging. We have only begun what might be a protracted process of modifying how we design and monitor our activities based on the perspectives of communities. What is taking place in Mozambique right now is a part of a global movement to investigate and review old ways of doing things at UNDP to make room for new methods better suited to addressing complex development issues. Insights and updates will be shared with partners in dedicated fora and on this site as we carry out this process in Mozambique in the upcoming months. Stay tuned!


Written By Marta Lindstrom/ Data Analytics and Management Specialist at UNDP Mozambique