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Archive for April, 2012

Piva taking part in a role play about challenges in developing an accountability framework

Standing Team member Piva Maharani Bell shared with us a summary of what she learned at the Training of Trainers on the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard. The four-day workshop was held by the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) in April in Jakarta, Indonesia to build capacity to facilitate accountability training. The training introduced the concept of accountability, how it relates to humanitarian work, and how to implement the 2010 HAP Standard in the organizational context.

The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership was established in 2003 as a partnership of member agencies that share a commitment to making humanitarian action accountable to disaster survivors. HAP defines accountability as the means by which power is used responsibly. Accountability is about the right to a say and the duty to respond. An accountable organization manages the quality of its products and services and strives to continuously improve these for the benefit of its customers, clients or affected populations.

HAP has 84 member agencies.

A set of requirements for HAP Accountability Standards was developed and published in 2007 and was the first international standard designed to assess, improve and recognize the accountability and quality of humanitarian programs. A review of these standards took place in 2010, resulting in a more user-friendly document in line with the rules for the structure and drafting of documents intended to become International Standards as laid out by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Organizations that meet the HAP Standard make a commitment to the HAP Standard Principles, which are defined in the HAP Standard document:

Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Participation and Informed Consent, Duty of Care, Witness, Offer redress, Transparency and Complementarity.

The HAP Accountability Standard includes six Benchmarks, their related requirements and means of verification.

Benchmark 1Establishing and delivering on commitments

The organization sets out the commitments that it will be accountable for and how they will be delivered.

Benchmark 2 – Staff Competencies

The agency ensures that staffs have competencies that enable them to meet the organization’s commitments.

Benchmark 3 – Sharing Information

The organization ensures that the people it aims to assist and other stakeholders have access to timely, relevant and clear information about the organization and its activities.

Benchmark 4 – Participation

The organization listens to the people it aims to assist, incorporating their views and analysis in program decisions.

Benchmark 5 – Handling Complaints

The organization enables the people it aims to assist and other stakeholders to raise complaints and receive a response through an effective, accessible and safe process.

Benchmark 6 – Learning and continual Improvement

The organization learns from experience to continually improve its performance.

Discussing HAP Accountability Benchmarks

The application of the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard helps organizations to design, implement, assess, improve and recognize accountable programs. Piva is using the Good Enough Guide and the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard to share her knowledge of accountability within Mercy Corps. (For more about the Good Enough Guide, see this blog). She is using the Good Enough Guide and HAP Standard to improve her programming work. Piva emphasizes that garnering buy-in from Mercy Corps’ decision-makers to support the application of the HAP Standard will be crucial.

What is your experience of sharing and applying the Good Enough Guide and HAP Standard in your work?

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In our previous blog we discussed the findings of the 2009 HAP paper, The right to a say and the duty to respond: The impact of complaints and response mechanisms on humanitarian action by Helen Baños Smith. The four case studies in this paper explore evidence of the impact of Complaints and Response Mechanisms (CRMs) on beneficiaries, on staff and on service provision.  We found the research so fascinating, we wanted to share more!

Summary of additional findings:

Quality of investigations needs improvement

using complaints cards to set up a CRM, World Vision, Sri Lanka, hapinternational.org

Baños Smith found that there was disagreement and lack of clarity among staff and intended beneficiaries on what constituted a satisfactory investigation into complaints and how to go about it. The research suggests, “Creation of a pool of investigators/agencies with specialised skills to work alongside effective CRMs (a service offered by the HAP Secretariat) is one way forward.”

HAP training helps

Staff who had received HAP training on accountability and CRMs reported that such training was helpful. But actual changes in the field were not always implemented. “Corporate prioritising and integrated efforts at all levels are needed.”

Management support for CRMs is essential

Senior-level support for accountability and CRMs was “seen as essential to securing staff commitment to the implementation of a CRM.” Some international head office staff spoke of the difficulty of getting field staff to implement CRMs and practice accountability, due to long-established ways of working. Accountability measures need to be in the work plans of field staff, and rewards or incentives should be considered for those who practice accountability effectively.

Need clear designation of duties for CRMs

Head office staff reported that the roles and responsibilities for CRMs need to be clearly defined and communicated, and that senior-level staff should be in charge of the CRM. Such management needs to include support of junior-level staff who receive and deal with complaints. Staff in one case study “said they did not always feel qualified or supported to deal with complaints especially where the validity of the complaint was in question.” Management support of junior staff requires effective two-way communication.

Need to evaluate effectiveness of CRMs

The study found a range of responses from staff and intended beneficiaries on the effectiveness of CRMs, thus revealing the need for agencies to seek beneficiary feedback on the CRMs in order to improve them.

Setting up CRMs is time-consuming, but necessary

Staff complained of the large amount of time required to set up a CRM, including training of staff and the community on the CRM and the development of trust and rapport between the two parties.

The time required to implement an effective CRM and then pursue investigations of complaints thoroughly (especially when other agencies are involved or it has to be referred up the management chain) can seem disproportionate and unattainable given the short timeframes required for emergency work, yet delivering emergency relief without taking into account the negative unintended or intended effects that programmes and staff may have on communities is not an acceptable option.

As one national office staff member explained, “There is an African proverb that says, ‘If you like to go fast go alone, if you like to go far go collectively.’  This is how it is with accountability!”

CRMs for staff

The HAP Standard Benchmark 6 on complaints handling also specifies that agencies must implement a CRM for staff as well as for those affected by disasters. The requirements for an effective CRM for beneficiaries were the same as that for staff, including attitudes of management and staff toward the CRM.

Have you encountered successful examples of Complaints and Response Mechanisms in your work?  We would love to hear about them!

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You probably already know a lot about Complaints and Response Mechanisms (CRMs):

Complaints handling is one of the six benchmarks of the HAP 2010 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management .  Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP) member agencies must practice a complaints procedure for staff and beneficiaries according to specific HAP guidelines. We have discussed case studies of CRMs in Sri Lanka and Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya. The 2009 HAP paper, The right to a say and the duty to respond: The impact of complaints and response mechanisms on humanitarian action by Helen Baños Smith, explores evidence of the impact of CRMs on beneficiaries, on staff and on service provision. The study presents four cases of four anonymous agencies, two in Bangladesh and two in Uganda The agencies include a partner of a Certified HAP Member Agency, a partner of a HAP member, a HAP member, and a HAP Certified Member.

The paper presents the views and experiences of 237 staff and intended beneficiaries, including views of staff from 17 agencies not studied in the case studies (including CARE, Save the Children UK and World Vision in Bangladesh, and World Vision in Uganda). Each case study presents a description of the existing CRMs as related by staff; communities’ understanding of the purpose and function of CRMs; the views of both beneficiaries and staff on the effectiveness and impact of CRMs and, finally, presents communities’ expectations and suggestions on how CRMs could be improved.

The overall finding was that staff and beneficiaries of the HAP certified agency felt that the CRM was effective, but with need for some improvement. However, for the other three agencies, program staff and intended beneficiaries did not find the CRM effective, and the two groups had different descriptions and perceptions of the CRM.

Here are some other findings:

Explanation of the CRM to the community:    

Without the relevant information about the CRM in the local languages, community members, especially those with less power, are not likely to use the CRM. Information on the CRM should be in a form accessible to those who are illiterate as well. Communication about the CRM should include what can and cannot be complained about, and staff need to know what can and cannot be addressed within what time frame.

Local power imbalances:     

 Those with less power felt unqualified, unjustified or uncomfortable utilizing the CRM due to the difference in power and social status between the intended beneficiary and the staff, or they reported having to get past the “gatekeeper.” Those with power, those well respected in the community, and men were “less likely to be viewed negatively by their communities if they complained.” One intended beneficiary commented:

In our country we don’t all enjoy equal rights. All of us don’t have equal value. If there were any discussions we would not be invited, only rich people are invited. Who will listen to us? No one listens to the poor.

Thus the intended beneficiaries should feel comfortable using the CRM.

Unless agencies ensure that all potential users are aware of and confident in using the CRM, they risk reinforcing existing power imbalances and consequently put at risk their ability to be accountable to the marginalised groups.

CRMs: culturally acceptable?    

Even if CRMs are appropriately communicated and designed so that the most marginalized can easily utilize the mechanism, staff and beneficiaries interviewed reported that the idea of formally lodging a complaint about an organization may be culturally alien and therefore undesirable by the community. Others interviewed, however, relayed that adjusting the channels of making complaints to the context could make the CRM acceptable and therefore effective. The program staff need to understand the value of local input so they can design with the community an appropriate CRM.

Access to the CRM      

People must be able to easily access the CRM without incurring a significant loss, such as loss of income or time to work. Submitting a complaint or comment should not require substantial time. Additionally, women beneficiaries reported that they prefer to talk to female staff about their complaint. Thus more female staff should be made available to women beneficiaries. The author wrote:

In the light of feedback from the communities interviewed […] more female staff at all levels would be likely to improve accessibility to the CRM for both community members and staff and bring a different perspective in the process of setting up the CRM.

Staff attitude  

Staff interviews revealed that staff attitude toward the community was a major factor in the success of the CRM. One staff said

It is all about relationships between staff and communities, demonstrating dignity and respect, having compassion, working with humility and a sense of equality; with that commitment and mind set amongst staff then the CRM is so much more likely to be meaningful and used, because there is no mismatch between the mechanism and what the community sees in terms of the attitudes and behaviours of staff. That is what makes the difference.

Staff training     

Lack of training of staff was also cited as a barrier to effective CRMs. Staff on all levels—not just those in the field talking with the community—need sufficient knowledge and skills.

More findings from this paper to come soon. Stay tuned!

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So you’ve read our blog on common needs assessments and our blog on joint evaluations. Like any coordinated multi-agency activity, joint evaluations and joint needs assessments provide an opportunity for agencies to work together, to avoid duplication of efforts, to share perspectives and to build trust for future cooperation.

Duplication of assessments is a persistent problem in the humanitarian sector, identified frequently by evaluations as an important constraint on the quality and effectiveness of humanitarian response. Communities affected by emergencies are often on the receiving end of assessment visits by many separate agencies, providing information about their needs that by no means guarantees that those needs will be met. Both a waste of scarce resources and a source of resentment, the current approach falls short of the primary goal of assessing needs: ensuring that the right assistance reaches the right people at the right time. Because agencies try to avoid duplication, a joint needs assessment can lead to a faster assessment and therefore a faster response. 

Two useful ECB tools:

  1. Joint Initial Rapid Assessment Data Collection Tool

The ECB consortium in Indonesia developed a rapid Joint Needs Assessment (JNA) methodology and tool (also available in Bahasa Indonesian)  in consultation with the Government of Indonesia and the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) Country Team. This methodology includes pre-agreements between actors to deploy a common approach, a standard data collection template, and a database for the management and analysis of data. The Joint Initial Rapid Assessment tool is designed to improve information exchange among Consortium members in the first 72 hours following a disaster. UNOCHA currently recommends that the tool be used as a model for the development of an Integrated Needs Assessment tool for Indonesia.

The joint initial rapid assessment data collection tool is similar to a survey and asks for information on a core set of assessment fields that are common to all agencies and useful across a range of sectors. The tool asks for information on the location of the area being assessed, the demographics of the population, health conditions of the people, issues of child protection, and access to shelter, non-food items, water and sanitation facilities, health services, food and education. 

The six primary ECB agencies and several partner agencies used the Joint Initial Rapid Assessment tool template to respond to the earthquakes that struck Indonesia in 2009. Data was collected into one excel spreadsheet. This data was then incorporated into an OCHA report on all the assessments in the affected area. Click here to learn more about their active engagement at the field level in Indonesia.

The JNA tool has also been used in Bolivia and Bangladesh in 2011 after flooding, and the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS) and ECB conducted a JNA in Niger in March 2012.

  1. Shared Assessment online tool

The ECB team has also developed a simple online platform designed specifically to enable easy entry, storage and retrieval of assessment data.  It is robust enough to operate reliably even under challenging field conditions and poor connectivity. Since it is online, it will allow agencies to share and exchange data in real-time.

This prototype tool enables users to:

  • Enter data either offline or online
  • Complete immediate, local analysis of data
  • Use a system of data validation
  • Generate pre-formatted, aggregated reports
  • Export data for additional, user-specific analysis

Though still in the pilot stage, the ECB Shared Assessment tool has been enthusiastically received by stakeholders in Indonesia, including the UN Country Team and the government. Testing and refinement of the tool will continue in Indonesia. The online tool is not accessible to the public yet (so no link is provided), but be on the lookout for more information as the tool goes public!

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The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) published in October 2011 the Lessons Paper: Humanitarian Action in Drought-Related Emergencies by Kerren Hedlund and Paul Knox Clarke . The Lessons Paper, also available in Spanish, French and Arabic, identifies 17 key lessons for humanitarian agencies responding to droughts.  Topics such as early warning, targeting, working with government, cash and vouchers, water interventions and nutrition are included. However, lesson 6 is of particular interest to the AIM Standing Team:

Humanitarians are increasingly demonstrating accountability to an ever larger set of stakeholders. These accountability approaches have the potential to improve programme effectiveness but there is still a long way to go.

So what does the paper suggest regarding accountability practice?

  • Agency accountability to donors should not be done to the detriment of accountability to beneficiaries and impact of the interventions.

Agency staff may have to spend a disproportionate amount of time fulfilling reporting requirements to donors instead of spending their time on the practice of accountability. Staff may also not try out new approaches for fear of failure and consequent non-renewed funding. The paper suggests that donors contribute “to joint/pooled funds to decrease reporting requirements, and by clarifying their attitude to risk and failure. In some cases, it may be more effective for donors to take a ‘portfolio approach’ and consider the combined impact of several related actions rather than expecting each action to be an individual success.”

  • Coordinated action requires agencies to develop mechanisms for collective, multi-agency accountability.

Niger, CARE USA

Effective response, especially those in response to droughts, require much coordination between agencies. As mentioned in the previous blog on collective accountability, beneficiaries do not differentiate between agencies. Thus “there is a growing need for collective accountability mechanisms, where all agencies in a group are jointly accountable to beneficiaries and also accountable to one another. While this is extremely challenging, the international community is increasingly recognising the need to structure joint accountability into consortia and other groups addressing drought response. ECHO’s Regional Drought Decision and USAID’s PLI both include accountability and learning as a cross-cutting theme, and dedicate resources to achieving it.”

  • Agencies need to make use of evidence to implement more cost-effective and impactful interventions.

For example, much evidence exists of the cost-effectiveness and impact of using cash and vouchers, yet agencies still revert to the more traditional approach of food aid.

We want to hear from you! Do you have experience with any of these lessons being put into practice?  Share your thoughts…or questions for the group!

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Hopefully you are familiar with ECB’s Good Enough Guide (GEG) (see this previous blog post)  and its communication materials. This week, we have interviewed Lucy Heaven Taylor, an AIM Advisor from Oxfam GB, to hear the fascinating story of how these materials were developed! Lucy co-managed this project, and this is what we found out:

Soon after the publishing of the GEG, ECHO announced a call for proposals for developing inter-agency capacity. Given the popularity of the Guide, the Accountability and Impact Measurement (AIM) Advisors and Oxfam decided to propose a project to develop materials to communicate the important principles of the GEG to agency staff and beneficiaries.

First, Lucy and Julian Srodecki, ex-AIM adviser for World Vision, project co-managers, conducted a large survey of practitioners through Survey Monkey and key informant interviews in order to find out what forms of communication were prefered. From hundreds of responses, they found that posters and leaflets were the most popular materials used to communicate key messages. 

They then moved on to conduct a literature review on the practice of communications among different cultures. This uncovered useful information, such as the fact  that the color red does not universally signify “stop.” They learned that in order to create materials and images to which people will respond and relate, the materials needed to be developed with the people themselves.

Five regions were chosen in which to develop the materials: Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. The idea was to produce context-specific images in each of the regions as examples for humanitarian organizations, so that they could develop materials appropriate to their own geographic and linguistic context. ECB staff went to Bolivia, Kenya, Lebanon, Bangladesh and Myanmar to work on the materials with disaster affected people and local artists. The artist in each country created images to represent the people’s perceptions of disasters, of their rights and of themselves. The community members provided feedback on the images until the artist got it right. For example, in Bangladesh the artist created an image of somebody pointing, but the community thought he was holding a gun!  As you can see, their feedback was crucial!  Once the drawing was approved, the image was printed and tested in the same community.

It was interesting for the ECB staff to find that the community members prefered colored drawings to line drawings or photographs. They also prefered figures of people looking at them with recognizable facial features. In addition, it was discovered that people like to see images of themselves not exactly how they look, but instead represented in a more positive light.

Initially it was planned that the posters and leaflets would have no words because of a largely illiterate audience, but it proved to be too difficult to portray the messages. Thus it was decided that the materials would have words and a literate person could relay the message to those needing assistance. The specific wording for the posters and leaflets was agreed upon by the steering committee for the project. Half of the posters were designed for beneficiaries, to be displayed in public to raise awareness of people’s rights. Other posters were developed for agency staff, to raise awareness of the practice of accountability and to be posted in offices. The leaflets were designed to teach the principles of accountability and the GEG to agency staff. Both were printed in English, Arabic, Bangla, Burmese, Spanish and French.

 The videos were developed in a similar consultative fashion, with disaster affected communities in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and Bolivia. These videos show staff and beneficiaries talking about the principles of the GEG, and they are designed to be viewed by agency staff for training purposes.

The project was truly a collaboration of member agencies of the ECB. It was co-led by Oxfam and World Vision, with a Steering Committee comprising of a cross-section of members, including CARE, Mercy Corps and ECB secretariat staff. The field work was undertaken by World Vision, CARE, Oxfam and ECB staff, and drew on experience from different agencies’ programmes. 

The other successful component of this project was that it not only sought to promote the practice of accountability in emergencies – but accountability was practiced while developing the materials!  The collaboration of ECB agencies and consultation with the communities was the key to their success.

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Maria Kiani, Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP), has over nine years experience working in the humanitarian, development and communications sectors. With HAP Maria led deployments after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Sri Lanka civil conflict of 2007, and more recently to Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya in 2010, Pakistan after the flooding of 2011, and, again, to Kenya in 2011 in response to the Horn of Africa Famine Crisis (a joint deployment of Sphere, HAP and People in Aid). She also supported deployments in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti and to the civil conflict in Kyrgyzstan.

 We were excited to have an opportunity to speak with Maria!

  1. Can you describe your responsibilities as Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at HAP? What do you do?

As the Senior Q&A Advisor, I lead HAP’s Roving Team which is deployed across the globe. The Roving Team operates under the New Emergencies Policy, which is a commitment by organisations to make special collective efforts to apply the HAP Principles of Accountability in new or escalated emergencies.

hapinternational.org

Before a deployment, I monitor humanitarian crises around the world and the accountability issues that arise in turn. If a HAP member or agency invokes the New Emergency policy and requests a deployment, I work with our members (82 of them!), fellow Q&A Initiatives, UN agencies and other actors involved in the ongoing response to develop a draft terms of reference (ToR) and seek funding.

When in country, I meet with the stakeholders and interested parties to see if the ToR is relevant, achievable and beneficial to them. I also seek their input and advice in defining what activities to undertake and the appropriate methodologies and time frames. This is particularly important since deployed teams often go into a humanitarian operation where a plan/ToR has been developed without fully understanding the context, nuances, time constraints and work load of staff. Discussing the ToR with the people with whom you will be working and seeking their input helps to create realistic goals and develop a context appropriate approach. It is also a way of increasing ownership and support for the work you will be doing.

During a deployment, I work bi-laterally with various interested agencies, which involves working closely with their senior and frontline staff. Since the aim of a deployment is also to increase collective action, special effort is made to ensure that agencies of various sizes and backgrounds come together to strengthen accountability within the ongoing humanitarian response. This is an important step, since agencies and staff often don’t realise that they the face the same challenges and can find common solutions. There is great value in collective learning and action, and this is often the most satisfying aspect of a deployment.

At the end of the deployment, I consolidate the learning, develop tools and case-studies, debrief senior and headquarter management and write my reports. I continue to provide remote support to the colleagues who I worked with during the deployment through email and Skype. 

My other responsibilities and activities include research (supporting it or conducting it), developing training material, communications and participating in discussions at various fora.

  1.  What have you learned in your current position regarding the practice of accountability around the world?

There are a couple of things:

a)       Accountability is not rocket science! It is about attitude, approach and action: Do we treat affected communities as equals and respect them through our attitudes and actions?  Do we make decisions with them rather than for them, or at the very least explain to them why we made a particular decision?  Accountability can be achieved through simple actions such as communicating who we are, what assistance we will provide, including affected communities in our programmes and decision-making and listening to their concerns and acting on them.  Every action we take matters and has impact.

b)      Communities are very appreciative and understanding: During my discussions with those affected by disaster and conflict across the world, communities mostly appreciate the aid workers and commend them for working in harsh conditions, away from their families. It is about dialogue and transparency. If an agency clearly explains the challenges it faces, such as resources, access, time, insecurity etc, affected communities often understand and offer solutions as well.

c)       Collective action matters: In a humanitarian context, agencies and staff are unified through a common objective of providing assistance on an impartial and humanitarian basis. We face similar challenges and can find joint solutions. Peer learning, joint problem solving and exchange of knowledge is critical. Reports are not necessarily the best way to share learning! We need to find practical and creative ways of sharing knowledge (local and technical), and a more learning-by-doing approach is needed so staff can find context appropriate solutions. Challenges around coordination and communication will persist between agencies, however there are small steps we can take, for example visiting an office of another humanitarian organization to observe a good practice can spark ideas of how you can make changes in your organization. This peer learning approach was used in my deployment to Pakistan in 2011, when a group of agencies had a question and answer session at the Oxfam office on complaints hotlines.

d)     Practice can guide policy and vice-versa: During deployments, you can observe that good practices of accountability are taking place due to initiative, creativity and leadership of some staff members.  There might not be a policy or clear guidance which has resulted in this, so it is important to capture this and share it with the management or headquarters. Based on evidence of successful practices, agencies often create clearer policies and procedures which can result in systematic improvements throughout the organization.

e)       Unpack accountability, what are its elements: As agencies we aspire towards greater accountability through our commitments and mission statements. For example, agencies state that they provide information and undertake participation. But the question would be, are staff clear about the steps involved? Are these steps followed during humanitarian operations? What is the decision-making process on what information can and cannot be provided in a complex operational environment? We need to look at the elements involved in achieving greater accountability and know the minimum requirements to assess these.

  1. What observations have you made about the evolution of the concept/field/mandate of accountability in the last ten or so years?

The sector is changing; there is greater awareness and interest in issues of accountability. The large-scale disasters such as the Tsunami and earthquakes in Haiti and Pakistan have led to a clear recognition that something needs to change within the humanitarian sector if it wants to be effective, efficient and remain true to its foundational principles and values. Last year, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) set the ‘Transformative Agenda’ through which it aims to achieve greater accountability to affected communities in the sector; this is a welcome step. Accountability, individually and collectively is increasingly becoming an important aspect of humanitarian work for agencies.

I think technology will continue to play an exciting role. For example, the youth groups in Dadaab have a facebook page called The Refugee, on which they post pictures, updates and information on humanitarian activities, etc. During the height of the crisis last year, their page was a source of firsthand accounts and details for aid workers and Somali diaspora and other refugees. There are many other interactive platforms such Ushahidi and BetterPlace.org, all of which are exciting components of the sector’s evolutionary process.

  1. What value do you see in the ECB Project’s AIM Standing Team or any organization’s accountability standing team?

I think the ECB’s AIM Standing Team is a great idea! What I particularly like  is that it brings together staff from different agencies, with different perspectives, practices and experiences—which is very important for learning and continual improvement. I participated in the Standing Teaming workshop last year, which gave me an opportunity to connect with some of the team members, and it was a great learning experience. I have continued to stay in contact with some of the team members, and we have shared information, resources and contacts for the emergency in Horn of Africa. 

The team, once deployed, becomes a part of the unfolding humanitarian operation and brings their experience from other locations to the deployment.  The team is a resource which staff can draw upon; problems can be discussed and solved more quickly and in a context appropriate manner. The deployment/standing team members can act as connectors between the frontline, senior staff and headquarters. This is important as the context on the ground is evolving fast; the team can help overcome the disconnects between headquarters and operational sites. One thing to keep in mind, however, is the need to have a clear exit and follow-up strategy to ensure that all the hard work is not lost!

I think the added value of a deployment/standing/surge capacity team is that it brings attention to the issue of accountability in emergencies. Such teams can be effective in reinforcing and practically supporting accountability during emergencies.

  1. What advice do you have for the AIM Standing Team?

Be flexible: When deployed, you can be thrown in the middle of an operation which is unfolding, staff members don’t have a lot of time available to go through detailed orientations and explanations. Have a schedule for activities but be flexible and adjustable. You have to proactively seek opportunities to engage people, such as during breaks or in the vehicle on a trip to a distribution site etc. Leave a margin in your planning for sudden changes. 

Remember everyone you meet is important: ask questions and be curious. We often forget that drivers, cooks, support staff can be very good source of insights. Simple questions like, “Have you been given an induction? Did you sign a code of conduct? Was it in a language you understand? Did anyone explain the code of conduct to you? What work does your organization do,” etc can help you create a map of how well understanding of accountability flows throughout the organization.

Pace yourself: A deployment can be quite intense. There are activities you need to prepare, plan and execute for the deployment and there might be issues of work you need to address from your headquarters or parent organization. It is important to pace yourself and set achievable and realistic targets.

Sometimes results aren’t immediate: At times it is hard to not be able to see immediate results of the support you have given. Change takes times and follow-up is important, so that is something that needs to be factored in when preparing and planning for your deployment.

 Pair up and check in:  Deployments can be intense and you also need support, so find a colleague or friend you can check in with during deployments. Gregory Gleed, my colleague, who is deployed with me, is great to work with and working as a team helps to achieve better results. In a team every member has strengths and areas that need improvement (mine being excel sheets and numbers!).  A deployment is also an opportunity for learning and self-growth- we can learn from our peers about new approaches, facilitation skills, tools and coping with pressures, etc and their feedback can help us to improve.

  1. How can the Standing Team work with HAP?

I think it would be great if the Standing Team and HAP Roving Team could undertake a deployment together! It could have a wider outreach and would be a great learning opportunity for both teams. HAP will be reviewing its New Emergency Policy, under which the Roving Team works.  We will look at how we work with other surge capacity/standing teams. Staff from our member agencies were seconded for the HAP deployments in Haiti and Dadaab (Northern Kenya) to the Roving Team. I think secondments, joint deployments or working jointly if deployed in the same location, having periodic conference calls, or having a common web platform to share ideas and resources are some of the ways in which we can explore this further- we just have to be creative and committed!

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Julien Harneis (via flickr)

“United we stand?”

Given the significant efforts made to strengthen collective humanitarian action it is curious that there has been such little thought given to collective accountability. This gap is most glaring at the level where it is most urgently required: the most senior levels of humanitarian leadership in-country. In humanitarian hubs such as Port au Prince, Islamabad and Addis Ababa, where heads of agencies plan the delivery of millions of dollars of assistance to those in urgent need, it is of considerable concern that there is no single person or collective entity accountable for achieving humanitarian goals or leading humanitarian action.

Andy Featherstone, an independent consultant and author of a January 2011 Humanitarian Exchange Magazine article, “United we stand? Collective accountability in the humanitarian sector,” made this poignant remark on the deficit of collective accountability in humanitarian action.

As a clear example, let’s look at the role of the United Nation’s Humanitarian Coordinator (HC).  The HC is the senior-most UN official in a humanitarian emergency. This individual leads and coordinates the actions of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT), made up of UN and NGO senior staff,  and committed to such coordination. However, the HC does not have control over the results of agency interventions nor any authority over the agencies. While the Terms of Reference for the Humanitarian Coordinator mentions his/her accountability to the process and the results of humanitarian action, it is unclear who or what holds that individual accountable.  In turn, no one does—even when the Humanitarian Coordinator is responsible for how tens of millions of dollars of relief funding is used.

Imogen Wall

Initiatives for collective accountability

Andy Featherstone states that it is this accountability deficit in the UN/HCT system that needs to be addressed. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Transformative Agenda is 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. One of the components of the Transformative Agenda is mutual accountability between agencies in the HCT and between agencies and the HC. Andy Featherstone made clear in the March 22 webinar on humanitarian assistance that mutual accountability was a stepping stone to collective accountability and that:

[the Transformative Agenda] also has the potential to significantly strengthen humanitarian outcomes for those in need of assistance. But it will raise complex dilemmas about agency independence, particularly at a time when divisions run deep in some of the more complex responses.

For example, in Afghanistan there is insufficient level of trust between agencies, causing pushback on collective accountability, cooperation and coordination. But because of the potential to improve humanitarian outcomes, such coordination would be worth it, said Andy Featherstone. According to his research (most of which took place in Pakistan), communities do not differentiate between agencies. They judge agencies collectively, not individually. Thus it would behoove the agencies themselves to practice accountability collectively.

A many are aware, there are strong initiatives that are outside the HCT system that aim for collective accountability:

The New Emergencies Policy is a commitment made in 2004 by HAP member organisations to make special collective efforts to apply the HAP Principles of Accountability in new or escalated emergencies. 

And, of course the Emergency Capacity Building Project!  Aiming to improve the practice of accountability through capacity building, sharing learning, guidelines and tools to take practical steps in basic accountability.  The formation and deployment of the accountability standing team in order to build capacity of its own member agencies is a big step forward in this movement toward collective accountability!

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