Archive for November, 2012

Standing Team members Sajjad (Save Pakistan) and Tarun (Save Nepal) discussing accountability

Team members Faten and Sajjad write to us from Nepal:

Hello team members, colleagues, and readers! This is Faten and Sajjad writing you from our deployment in Nepal. The weather is quite pleasant here. Though a bit cold, we find that the cold is good to balance out the hot topic of accountability!

We are here working with many NGOs in Nepal, and are hosted by CARE and Save the Children Nepal. On Tuesday we visited the CARE Nepal office, and Wednesday we met with fellow Standing Team member Tarun at Save the Children Nepal. Even as we walked through office buildings of CARE and Save the Children, we could see that accountability is taken quite seriously by both agencies. It is well reflected in the vision and mission statements of both organizations, and it is core to their organizational values. Wall hangings  shared the core principles of humanitarian work, theories of change, ways of increasing our influence in a positive manner, and methods to empower communities to organize themselves and fulfill their fundamental rights.

It was great to discuss the ways in which CARE and Save the Children have adopted theories and practices of the fundamentals of accountability to communities. This includes information sharing, consultation, participation, and complaints and feedback. There are great things being practiced, but at the same time we strongly feel that we need to build evidence and demonstrate that affected communities feel that humanitarian organizations are really accountable to them. We have already discovered that many evaluations undertaken so far do not necessarily deal with information provision, consultation, participation and complaints and feedback as an important subject matter.

We intend to keep asking challenging questions in the coming days. Please let us know if you have any questions or feedback that could assist in our assessment. We would love to know what is on your mind! Please include your thoughts in the comments of this blog post and we will keep you posted.


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The Standing Team learning workshop is quickly approaching! December 3 – 5th Standing Team members and other stakeholders will meet in Dhulikhel, Nepal to discuss and debate the past and future of the AIM Standing Team. This workshop will provide a place for Standing Team members, clients, and AIM Advisors to provide honest feedback on this model’s successes and challenges.

As you know, this Standing Team model has been an experiment. We’ve done both trainings and deployments, and we are now at a critical reflection juncture.  We would love to hear your thoughts!

  • What kind of demand is there in the sector for this model?
  • What ideas do YOU have for increasing accountability to beneficiaries?
  • How can we operationalize our commitments to beneficiaries?

Post any thoughts here on the blog or email them to Katy (klove@care.org) and Sarah (sarnason@care.org).

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Eating healthy is a virtue not many would dispute. But even though we all know that we should get a variety of nutritious foods every day to keep ourselves and our families healthy, the demands of daily life often help us rationalize dietary shortcuts. As one mother told me, “With all the work I have to do, I don’t have time to cook all these complicated recipes. I know we should eat more healthy food, but the kids don’t like it. They just want to eat the regular stuff.”

The sentiment is instantly relatable and one that could easily be heard in family households across the U.S. But it wasn’t a suburban American mother rationalizing her family’s habit of eating fattening foods. The explanation came from a farmer in a remote hamlet in Timor-Leste during a focus group discussion (FGD) about the high incidence of malnutrition in the impoverished country. Although a variety of nutritious fruits and vegetables are sometimes available and accessible in local markets—and in many cases growing unattended in natural areas around houses and farms—poor Timorese families often limit their meals to a repetition of starchy staples.

MAP: Sara Gonzalez, Carole Reckinger

The FGD was one of many conducted as a qualitative compliment to a midterm evaluation of a Food Security project being implemented by Mercy Corps. The FGDs were aimed at capturing unexpected feedback from beneficiaries. The regular evaluation measured progress toward program targets, which include increases in on-farm production and household incomes, reductions in post harvest loss, and the establishment of small businesses to support those efforts. By looking beyond the original targets and ensuring that the program is accountable to the communities it hopes to benefit, Mercy Corps learned about key food security issues it hadn’t been addressing—such as food preference and climate change—and added project activities to address the gaps.

I joined the AIM Standing Team in 2011 while working as M&E and Food Security Advisor with Mercy Corps in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. As a member of the Standing Team I’ve had the privilege to participate in engaging and well-designed workshops in both Jakarta and Casablanca. By Joining the Jakarta workshop I became an official Standing Team member, helping to advance Mercy Corps’ commitment to accountability and to the ECB consortium. Among the things we covered was how to sell accountability,” and, in fact, membership on the Standing Team itself has been an important lever to prioritize accountability. Charged with conducting the midterm evaluation in Timor-Leste, I was able reference the Standing Team, the blog, and the Good Enough Guide. And even though AIM materials are emergency focused, the food security project team saw the value of including open-ended feedback from beneficiaries in the study.

The workshop in Casablanca emphasized the fact that communication is an essential component to promote accountability and transparency. Communication in projects is not just about sharing information. It can also be used for trust building, conflict resolution, effective participation, and provision of psychosocial support. Participatory activity is better documented by photography and video, and they convey a human context that is impossible to capture any other way. After the workshop, I put a heavy emphasis on applying photography and video to Mercy Corps projects. I created a photo essay and video for a spice market development project in Eastern Indonesia, a photo essay and video for a food security project in Timor-Leste, and another video for an aquaculture project in Timor.

The final visual communication products made the voices and experiences of beneficiaries far more prominent in otherwise dry technical reports and presentations for donors and partners. More importantly it helped to improve understanding and buy-in of the project efforts among the communities, in the government, and even within the project team at Mercy Corps. Projects often have many disparate components, and the overall vision can be lost or confused. By using voices, stories, and images from the communities where we work to bring project activities together under a shared vision, understanding and buy-in is improved among all project stakeholders. When the vision is shared, relevant new ideas and feedback can converge to strengthen it.

In response to feedback from the community during the evaluation in Timor-Leste, Mercy Corps added activities to help farmers reduce risks from climate change—such as crop diversification—and to encourage household diet diversification. Both initiatives require that the community be willing to buy, cook, and eat food that they typically wouldn’t. Using research undertaken by UNICEF and Timor’s Department of Health, we created a cookbookof locally appropriate dishes. The dishes included vegetables that Mercy Corps has begun to support the seed replication for among project farmers, as well as tilapia fish—supported by an aquaculture development component of the project.

PHOTO: Tom Pfeiffer

To disseminate the recipes and ignite community interest, the project funded 50+ community food events where the books were made available to all. Each event included music by a local band and at least four recipes were cooked at each by community members and shared. Mercy Corps limited its presence in order to build community ownership of the events. The project video is entirely in the local language and includes the testimony of several community stakeholders. The video is shown at the food events and other community meetings, helping to communicate the vision of the project and solicit continued relevant feedback from the community.

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The Accountability Club once again met last month. This time, the topic was collective accountability and the Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC) Operational Framework on Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP).

We were privileged to have Lauren Landis, director of the World Food Program (WFP) in Geneva, participate, who opened by providing background on the process being led by the Inter-Agency Steering Committee (IASC). In line with its ‘Transformative Agenda,’ and the drive to improve the cluster process, the IASC is promoting the improvement of accountability to affected populations in humanitarian response.  One priority is to clarify the roles and responsibilities of Humanitarian Coordinators and Humanitarian Country Teams with respect to accountability.

Brian Lander, co-author of the Operational Framework, provided an update on where the process goes from here. The Task Force on Accountability is looking to pilot the Framework, though there have been a few delays and some concern that the Framework may appear to be too “complicated” or “heavy.”  Some work is being done, as well, to combine these pilots with the efforts of the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) Task Force.  However, it was noted that the PSEA team is focusing mainly on complaints and response mechanisms, and that accountability outlined in the Framework is a much broader topic.

Questions submitted in advance by Accountability Club members unable to attend were answered as well. For instance, gender and protection were raised, again, as a wider issue than just PSEA. This was in light of the FAO, WFP, and global Food Security Cluster interagency mission on accountability to affected populations, which was completed in October in Pakistan. The report on this mission highlighted key gaps in accountability, particularly with a gender focus. Initial consultation with women and girls was noted as being well done, but further engagement in the later stages of a project was lacking.  Similarly, given the strong overlap with PSEA, it was felt that more could be made of the commonalities.

The lack of guidance on engagement of governments is another gap that was mentioned. Questions have been raised around what is to be expected of local and national governments, particularly with respect to complaints and response mechanisms.  There is a need for greater clarity on experiences with government in contexts such as Pakistan and Haiti.

We are extremely grateful to WFP for agreeing to join this call .We all benefited from their insights and experiences. The WFP is continually looking for feedback, and we hope that another call such as this could be convened in the future now that the IASC Task Force on AAP draft Terms of Reference has been developed.

As always, let us know if you have an idea for a future Accountability Club meeting or if you would like to join the Club!

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LMC Meeting with Islamic Relief
(PHOTO: Jo Ashbridge/ RIBA)

ECB Shelter Accountability Advisor, Hugh, recently returned from an 11 day deployment to Bangladesh. During this trip, he held discussion groups with beneficiaries, Local Management Committee (LMC) members and community members, and spoke with project managers and staff to evaluate the accountability of the Flood REsistant SHelter (FRESH), Save the Children, and IFRC (Red Cross) projects in the country. Six INGOs are involved in implementing the FRESH project: ActionAid (AAid), CARE International, Concern World Wide (CWW), Islamic Relief (IR), Oxfam GB, and Solidarités International. Only AAid was not able to be reviewed.  Below we have consolidated Hugh’s recommendations.

PHOTO: Ahmed Al Amin/ Save the Children/ ECB

Overall Recommendations:

1. Share learning from the FRESH Project. In particular, the LMCs used in the FRESH Projects ensured community participation and representation and facilitated processing of feedback and complaints. Other agencies should use the FRESH project as an example of good practice.

NARRI Shelter – CARE
PHOTO: Jo Ashbridge/ RIBA

2. Improve beneficiary participation in the design phase. Participation in the design of shelters by those who will live in them is an important component of accountability in shelter projects. In this case, beneficiaries almost universally desired a veranda to allow segregation between the sexes.

3. Improve access to the shelter through constructing stairs to the door. While the plinth of the FRESH shelter is ~1m high, none of the shelters had effective stairs. The stairs were intended to be a beneficiary contribution, but the desire to add a veranda and the inability to source earth when the area is still water-logged delayed construction of proper stairs.

NARRI Shelter- Solidarites International
PHOTO: Jo Ashbridge/ RIBA

4. Improve access to assistance for populations with no formal land tenure. Individuals without formal land tenure may be the most vulnerable population in need of assistance; however, there were several cases of their exclusion from beneficiary lists.

5. Encourage and formalize learning from accountability systems. An important component of accountability is organizational learning from accountability mechanisms. While complaints were being responded to individually, there was little evidence of programmatic shifts.

PHOTO: Ahmed Al Amin/ Save the Children/ ECB

6. Change the language around shelter response to discourage the idea that beneficiaries are receiving gifts. Beneficiaries seemed reluctant to complain because of fear of jeopardizing their relationship with the ‘giving’ organization, excluding them from future benefits.

7. Ensure better coordination and information sharing amongst Shelter Cluster members. Agencies should collaborate to ensure that they provide an equitable response where they are intending to target different sections of the same population.

NARRI Shelter – Oxfam
PHOTO: Jo Ashbridge/ RIBA

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