Cultural competence is critical to public service, yet it is often ignored and underutilized, especially in post-disaster response and recovery. The current literature on cultural competence and frameworks developed by the private sector do not fully consider the complexities of a post-disaster public service context. This project explores the importance of cultural competence in post-disaster response and recovery, identifies effective training methods and organizational policies which may present barriers to competence acquisition, and proposes a new theoretical framework by which to assess cultural competence in international response and recovery work.
This study used focus groups with Haitian beneficiaries (n=7), in-depth interviews with response and recovery workers (n=50), close ended surveys with both groups (n=226), observation, and a review of secondary sources (e.g. job announcements, training manuals) to explore cultural competence from the perspectives of international response and recovery workers, their agencies, and Haitian beneficiaries after the January 2010 Haitian earthquake.
The analysis revealed that although 88% of participating aid workers identified cultural competence (CC) as critical to program effectiveness, 42% had no training before or during deployment. An analysis of the job announcements revealed that only 37% of agencies required cultural competencies. While aid workers and beneficiaries identified experiential strategies (e.g. immersion, mentoring) as critical to cultural competence acquisition, organizational policies (e.g. curfews, restrictions on travel) were often found to be at odds with these methods and more than 1/3 of participating aid workers felt that these policies were a barrier to cultural competency. Findings from this study may help aid workers better understand the importance of cultural competence and how it can improve the effectiveness of aid programs, and provide ways in which aid agencies can enhance cultural competence acquisition by their employees.