Archive for March, 2012

The Harvard School of Public Health hosted a webinar Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 7: Empowering beneficiaries: Humanitarian professionals at a crossroads? on March 22 


The movement towards enhancing accountability to and empowerment of beneficiaries in the humanitarian context seems to have put professionals in this field into a bind. Aid workers are mandated to follow two frameworks:

  • The legal framework adopted at the Geneva Conventions of 1949 holds organizations accountable to host states and donor states. However, this framework is inadequate, only referring to high contracting parties and non-state actors to which NGOs offer their services.
  • The human rights based framework calls for accountability to beneficiaries in humanitarian situations. The framework includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Refugee Law, International Humanitarian Law, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Thus humanitarian workers must engage in the complex task of simultaneously responding to the expectations of host state authorities, maintaining accountability to donors, and responding to the needs of beneficiaries.  Unfortunately, the balance of power in this equation has not favored accountability to beneficiaries.

In addition, efforts to “professionalize” humanitarian action have led to yet another set of accountability measures to ensure the implementation of particular professional standards — from assessing humanitarian needs to implementing and evaluating humanitarian programs. These rising expectations of professionalism put further pressures on humanitarian actors.

Looking back

The webinar’s first speaker was Maria Kiani, Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP). Maria gave a fascinating account of the historical emergence of accountability. Speaker, Brian Kelly, with the International Organization for Migration, added that the concept and promotion of accountability is not new. It can be seen in the Quran, the Torah and the Bible, in criminal and civil law, the concept of stakeholders and shareholders and the tax system. Also, it can be seen in the above-mentioned human-rights based declarations, laws and conventions. The modern movement for accountability to beneficiaries, however, came out of a 1996 joint evaluation of the emergency response to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This evaluation highlighted:

  • The need to improve accountability by monitoring performance of humanitarian action
  • The number of agencies was increasing but remained unregulated
  • The lack of consideration for local capacities, culture and context, whereby negligence in some cases led to increased suffering and death
  • Evidence of misconduct and abuses by staff
  • Protection, safety and security concerns

Similar findings were also found in evaluation of the response to the 2005 Tsunami.

Following the analysis of what went wrong in the humanitarian response to the Rwandan genocide, a shift occurred from providing charity out of benevolence towards compliance to professional standards at the agency and multi-agency level. There has also been a significant growth in agency self-regulation, and “by 2010, the database of self-regulation initiatives maintained by One World Trust identified over 350 self-regulation initiatives (most of which are at the national level).”

Collective Accountability

All speakers mentioned that the humanitarian field is facing a more complex environment with military actors, companies, for-profit organizations, and small and large NGOs, whereby recipients of aid do not know from whom the aid is coming. Andy Featherstone, an independent consultant, pointed out that due to lack of communication by agencies to the community, there is the risk that misconduct by one actor is blamed collectively on all actors because the people do not know which agency is doing what. Thus, in addition to the growth in agency level accountability initiatives, there has also been a movement toward leadership and coordination among the agencies, towards collective accountability. This can be seen in the growth of inter-agency networks, including HAP, ECB, ALNAP and CDAC (see this blog for more on CDAC).

Agencies, inter-agency networks and initiatives are not the only aspect of the movement toward greater accountability, though. There are external factors which have advanced the movement:

  • Increased media presence during emergencies (Investigative journalism/negative press has brought to light harmful practice)
  • Increased public awareness and scrutiny of performance of NGOs
  • Pressure from watchdogs and other rating agencies
  • Pressure from donors to show improved practices
  • Increase in government regulation of the sector (For example, as a result of misconduct during the response to the tsunami, the Sri Lankan government now regulates humanitarian actors)

These Quality & Accountability standards have been designed to be context relevant and appropriate. Such standards were developed in consultation with host governments, donors, aid workers and communities.

All three speakers mentioned the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Transformative Agenda as a stepping stone towards collective accountability. The agenda was set at the end of 2010 to improve leadership, coordination and accountability to performance and beneficiaries in humanitarian action.

The latest step in the movement towards collective accountability is the Joint Standards Initiative, comprised of the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and People In Aid .  In 2012, this initiative will explore ways in which the three standards can be united into a single coherent framework that will work in the field (for more information on the Joint Standards Initiative, see this blog).

Stay tuned for more on the movement towards collective accountability!


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In June of 2011, the ECB Project published the latest version of What we know about joint evaluations of humanitarian action: Learning from NGO Experiences. This paper aims to share the experiences and learnings of NGO staff who have conducted joint evaluations and serve as a resource for agencies considering conducting  joint evaluations in the future.

The Guide section of the booklet can be considered a ‘how‐to’ for those closely involved in joint evaluations. It discusses the benefits and disadvantages of the process, and what to do before, during and after a joint evaluation.

The Stories section shares three case studies from the ECB Project’s experiences.

  1. Joint Independent Evaluation of the Humanitarian Response of CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and World Vision to the 2005 Food Crisis in the Republic of Niger
  2. Multi‐Agency Evaluation of the Response to the Emergency Created By Tropical Storm Stan in Guatemala – CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam
  3. CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and World Vision Indonesia Joint Evaluation of their Responses to the Yogyakarta Earthquake in Indonesia

The Tools section includes templates and tools that can be adapted for evaluations, including sample terms of references, agreement documents, a joint evaluations readiness checklist, and suggested topics for discussion with prospective partner agencies.

Advantages of a Joint Evaluation

  • Like a single‐agency evaluation, a joint evaluation provides an opportunity to learn from past action so as to improve future decision‐making.
  • It allows agencies to see a bigger picture of the collective response and what gaps still exist.
  • By looking at a non-joint response of different agencies side by side, you can see where a coordinated effort would have been beneficial and can plan accordingly for the next response.

“Evaluation reports repeatedly show that better coordination would have led to a more effective response.”

  • When agencies open up to one another by sharing weaknesses and strengths, they increase transparency and make it easier for them to hold one another accountable for acting upon the recommendations.
  • Conducting the evaluation with other agencies allows sharing of perspectives and technical knowledge and builds trust for future cooperation.


  • It takes greater time, funds and skills for agencies to agree to do and conduct a joint evaluation.
  • Less depth on the work of each agency is covered.

So check out What we know about Joint Evaluations and tell us what you think!

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The Standing Team members to be deployed to Bolivia and Bangladesh have been determined! Both deployments will take place in late April.

Hugh and Brian will deploy to Bolivia. Hugh is ECB’s Shelter Accountability Adviser and Brian is an AIM Adviser for Mercy Corps. In Bolivia, Hugh and Brian will plan and facilitate a four-day training for about 30 participants from various ECB agencies, UN agencies and other organizations. The training fulfills a request from OCHA to build capacity of accountability and impact measurement among ECB and non-ECB agencies and for these agencies to come to agreement on basic elements of the practice of AIM in accordance with the Good Enough approach for emergency and non-emergency settings. For more information on this deployment, see this previous blog.

Shagufta, Saji, and Hannah will deploy to Bangladesh for one to two weeks at the end of April. Shagufta is the Design, Monitoring and Evaluation Manager at MercyCorps, Pakistan and an AIM Adviser. She has ten years of experience in DM&E and has worked in various emergencies in Pakistan. Saji is Manager of Relief Programming with World Vision, India. He has emergency response experience in India and Myanmar, as well as DM&E experience. Hannah is the Senior Humanitarian Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability & Learning Adviser, and a Save the Children AIM Adviser. In Bangladesh, the Standing Team members will review and document the current practice of accountability of the 7 agencies of the consortium, and create an action plan for improvement. Again, for more information see our previous blog.

Thank you and GOOD LUCK to Hugh, Brian, Shagufta, Saji, and Hannah for taking on this important AIM Standing Team task. We will keep you informed on the learning that comes out of these first two deployments, so stay tuned!

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So, you asked for more case studies…and we have found you some!

Why do accountability? A business case from Sri Lanka is a case study that examines the contributions of an independent Humanitarian Accountability Team (HAT) within World Vision’s Sri Lanka’s Tsunami Response Team (LTRT) program.  In order to demonstrate what accountability to beneficiaries looks like on the ground, this study makes the case for having empowered humanitarian accountability teams in the field and describes what is needed to make them work.

After the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka, the Sri Lanka Tsunami Response Team (LTRT) was formed with a Humanitarian Accountability Team (HAT) set up within it, separate from the technical programming and program support teams. By the way, the HAT Team Leader was one of ECB’s Staff Capacity Advisers (and former AIM Adviser), Alexandra Levaditis! The HAT complimented the program implementation by focusing on community engagement and liaising with NGOs and the government. The field-based HAT included Stakeholder Representatives that worked closely with communities and District Liaison Officers to coordinate activities and communicate with other NGOs and the government.  The operational responsibilities of the HAT included facilitating assessments, refining beneficiary lists, managing community complaints and dealing with many government liaison and coordination issues.

Advantages of the Humanitarian Accountability Team


  • National staff have learned that the consideration of local perspectives and needs is valuable, because it helps the staff to better meet those needs.
  • The HAT served as the primary point of contact in the field, which built trust and therefore improved communication and the quality of the program services. For example, when a project budget was cut, World Vision was able to convey this to the community and prioritize programming according to  needs. Such communication helped deter/reduce corruption because complaints could be made.

Splitting responsibility for accountability and programming

  • Having a HAT focus on beneficiaries allowed it to find problems and solve them more quickly. Since there was a HAT representative on the senior management team, this kept the latter in tune with beneficiaries’ issues/needs.
  • It was easier to hire staff when the job descriptions did not require both technical expertise and accountability expertise, a rare combination of skills. Technical staff were able to perform their job well without having to consult with communities and handle complaints at the same time. HAP staff could focus on beneficiaries and, for example, conduct greater quality community consultations.

Saved scarce resources

  • “Through good community engagement and liaison with stakeholders, HAT was able to save LTRT over USD 5 million in construction costs by preventing either unsuitable or unneeded construction in the south.”
  • Working with communities to refine beneficiary lists reduced them by 40% on average.

Enabling Factors that made the HAT successful in the LTRT program

  • Senior leadership needs to support HAT staff to be able to follow through with complaints internally to resolve problems.
  • The HAT should be separate from other units and have its own budget so it can focus on accountability only, maintain independence and protect its budget from cuts.
  • All staff, from guards, receptionists and drivers to engineers, need to be sensitized to the value of accountability and trained how to address beneficiary complaints and questions. This is to avoid non-HAP staff incorrectly handling complaints or questions.
  • The HAT only focused on one area of programming (shelter) so as to not be spread too thin. This was the area with the greatest risk of accountability issues.
  • The cost of running the HAT was 3% of the annual project budget ($1.3 million out of $40 million per year).

So, have a look at the World Vision Humanitarian Accountability Team case study!

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Have you ever asked yourself how you’re supposed to comply with the many quality & accountability standards, in addition to your own agency’s policies? In 2011, in response to concerns over the ability of aid workers to comply with various standards, the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and People In Aid have launched the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI) to achieve greater coherence of standards in humanitarian response.

The Sphere Project is a voluntary initiative that unites agencies around the common goal of quality and accountability in humanitarian work and is guided by the Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. The Handbook entails the minimum standards for key areas in humanitarian response. HAP promotes accountability to people affected by humanitarian crises using the 2010 HAP Standard in Accountability and Quality Management. People in Aid improves organisational effectiveness within the humanitarian and development sector by supporting its member organizations with the management of and support for its staff. People in Aid created a management tool called the People in Aid Code of Good Practice.

Soon, the JSI will form a working group, comprised of the three organizations. The working group will

  • research the extent of compliance with their standards in the field by consulting with stakeholders
  • ensure that any changes by the Initiative will best meet the needs of field staff trying to comply with the standards
  • explore ways the three standards can be united into a single coherent framework that will work in the field
  • explore options for creating a single organization related to the standard

The JSI has just launched the Joint Standards Initiative website. So far the site provides access to the three key standards in over 15 languages and resources on a joint deployment by the three organizations and Active Learning Networking for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) to assist agencies in the response in the Horn of Africa.

What has been your experience in the field trying to comply with these various standards?

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Silva Ferretti, consultant to our project,  and facilitator of the two workshops for the AIM Standing Team, gave an online presentation in February 2012 to share her innovative approach to share knowledge and learning. This approach is using mediums other than written reports. Silva prefers that her evaluations (of trainings or programs) and other types of “reports” are portrayed in a more appealing way.

The following are the different types of mediums Silva discussed. You will recognize a few from the workshops with Silva.

  1. Blog through WordPress to summarize daily activities for a later evaluation of the activity (a workshop, for example)
  2. Photos and Videos
  • Participatory activity is better documented by photography, such as through a powerpoint presentation, or video. For example, Silva showed her Powerpoint using photography that documents the process of a vulnerability analysis.
  • For a Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices analysis, Silva, as the consultant, prefers to use photo and video to document the analysis with the community. Using this medium promotes ownership by the community.
  • Video is Silva’s preferred medium to capture people’s reflections, opinions, and explanations, such as beneficiaries’ feedback or staff’s explanation of an activity or approach.
  • Use 1-2 minute clips to capture learning from workshop participants when the learning happens
  • A video can portray emotion and a picture is worth a thousand words!
  • use Youtube to post the video
  1. Prezi is a free downloadable presentation software that presents information in one screen and allows the reader to zoom in to different parts. A prezi presentation allows the reader to see the creator’s structure of thinking behind the presentation of information which is not possible in a linear report. Silver showed an evaluation she did, which includes all the regular parts of a report. This prezi presentation also includes an embedded video of a staff person explaining a program component!
  2. Google Doc to conduct an online survey and get results quickly.
  3. Animation using xtranormal software allows you to create characters to act out a skit (which always turns out funny). Animation can be used to depict a sensitive or controversial topic when there is no real voice to do so, such as problems in a program found through an evaluation. Have you seen the cowboy video created by ___ during the first Standing Team workshop in Bangkok? Not only was this video super fun to watch, it sparked a great discussion of the importance of high quality evaluations.
  4. Diagrams, flow charts, and maps can be used to break down and present a big idea, problem or concept in a visual way. There are tools online to do mind mapping, problem solving, flow chart diagramming.

Advantages to these alternative mediums of sharing knowledge and learning:

  • They are interesting, fun and cool!
  • They can spark an interesting discussion among participants.
  • These mediums are more likely to be given attention than written reports.
  • The images are memorable.
  • Using these mediums is at no cost.
  • They only requires a computer and internet.
  • Presenting knowledge through these mediums allows participants to work together in a different and fun way.

Serious can be Cool too!

Silva believes that just because the content (like an impact evaluation) is serious doesn’t mean it can’t be presented in a more interesting way. She explained that she is trying to overcome the “report wall” whereby many in the field, including big donors and report commissioners, prefer a “proper” written report over the alternative mediums of presentation of information, such as video, diagrams and infographics. Silva and the participants in the online presentation discussed the challenges of getting big donors and report commissioners to accept these new formats.

Which medium do you prefer?

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Save the Children wanted to share an 11 minute video with the Standing Team called “Ten Steps to Setting Up Complaints and Response Mechanisms” and  in Spanish called “10 pasos para la creación de Mecanismos de Queja y  Respuesta.”

This video features on a Complaints and Response Mechanisms (CRM) Pilot in Dadaab, Kenya in 2011. The video was produced by Save the Children UK’s Accountability to Children Breakthrough as a capacity building tool. Complaints handling, as you probably know already, is one of the six benchmarks of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) Standard for accountability and quality management.

Enjoy the video as it’s a fun way to learn! The second video is in Spanish.

Here’s a summary for you of the 10 steps as suggested by Save :

1. Secure organizational commitment to seek feedback and complaints from communities

2. Consult with children and the communities through group discussions to find out the preferred method of complaining.

Save the Children

  •  In Dadaab, children preferred to complain face-to-face, one-on-one with an adult

3. Design guidelines and procedures,  decide who will receive, register and investigate complaints, and deliver the responses

  • Information and complaints desks should be present in child-friendly spaces
  • Provide complaints desks just for children
  • Decide on what can be complained about

4. Set up mechanisms/infrastructure and train staff

5. Raise awareness of children and adults of how to complain and what about

  • Use meetings, posters, newspapers, notice boards, community representatives

6. Receive and record complaints

Save the Children

  • Don’t just wait to receive it; actively seek feedback and complaints on a regular basis.
  • In Dadaab, trained community representatives selected by the community would confidentially receive complaints from community beneficiary groups and communicate the complaints to Save the Children.

7. Acknowledge the complaint either verbally or in writing

8. Resolve complaints by making changes or by conducting an investigation (according to procedure)

9. Respond to the person who complained, and inform them about the action, including a right to appeal.

10. Record response and share learnings

Do these steps match what you have done in the past?

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The Cluster Approach was established in 2005 “as a way of addressing gaps and strengthening the effectiveness of humanitarian response through building partnerships.” Regarding accountability, the 2010 Cluster Approach Evaluation 2 noted that

[in most cases] clusters have not been active or effective in strengthening participatory approaches either by promoting participatory or community based approaches among their members, or through including affected populations in their own activities.

To address the lack of accountability to beneficiaries, the European Commission Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection, ECHO, has provided funding to the ECB Project to set up our  Standing Team to support agency accountability AND to support clusters in improving accountability. ECB has chosen to initially focus its accountability support to the Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster and the Shelter Cluster.  Any lessons learned from the Standing Team deployments in 2012 will inform the broader humanitarian community on how the cluster system can be made more accountable to affected populations.

HAP website

This builds on Oxfam’s work with the WASH Cluster. Oxfam has already developed and field tested WASH Accountability Resources for the WASH Cluster (funded by UNICEF), including a WASH Accountability Checklist. In addition to promoting accountability within the wider cluster system, the initiative aims to develop and adapt existing accountability tools, policies and guidance, and examples of good practice, for the Shelter Cluster and its members, similar to the materials already produced for WASH.

Hugh Earp, ECB’s Shelter Accountability Adviser, will be leading this initiative around the Shelter cluster. Hugh is a new addition to the Standing Team as a specialist in shelter and accountability, as well as being the ECB coordinator for accountability support to the Shelter Cluster. Hugh plans to go on an initial deployment to assess the extent of accountability practice in shelter programming in emergencies in the field. Possible sites include Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka and Somalia.  Hugh may also provide training to the ECB Standing Team on the practice of accountability in shelter programming. This would enable other Standing Team members to be deployed directly to the Shelter Cluster System.

Another exciting aspect of the initiative is working with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). The IASC Principals and the heads of all the major UN and NGO  organisations have just approved a framework for promoting accountability (which is based extensively on the ECB Key Elements of Accountability). ECB will help to test this framework on behalf of the IASC, and will be advising the IASC on how useful it is in a field context.

If you’d like to contact Hugh with any comments or questions, you can email him at earp@careinternational.org.

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