Archive for the ‘Accountability Club’ Category

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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Last week we featured the first half of a discussion around financial transparency that took place during the June 12th Accountability Club call.  Angela, CARE agency manager and standing team member, continues to share her experiences in the field below:

Angela: In 2010-2011 I ran various projects for CARE in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), providing multi-sectoral support for displaced families living with host families.  This work started with a pilot project in Goma using funding from the DEC.  The funding was quite flexible and allowed us room for decision-making and revisions of the planned expenditures per sector.

Q. Was this sharing of information seen as risky at the time? Did it take negotiation? Who decided information should be shared?

A.  I was the project manager, so I decided to do it because I did not feel – as an expat – that I was in a position to make the decisions about the community’s needs and priorities.  There are, of course, risks to sharing financial information, and you may not always find it appropriate to do so – for example on cash transfer programmes where there may be security considerations when transporting cash.

Q. How did the decision-making on the budget happen?

A. We spent a morning going through different shelter options and presenting the budget to the members of the community representatives’ committee.  We drew up the budget in a really simple format on flipcharts and spent a lot of time talking through the information instead of relying on writing.  We then split up into groups and discussed the different options that we had presented, as mentioned earlier.  Once the group discussion concluded, we came back, reviewed thoughts from the groups, and came to a consensus.

Q. How did you present that information to the community? 

A. Through community representatives, the nyumba kumis (a local authority system whereby each 10 houses has a representative), through our own staff and a message board.  We would be sure that whatever it was that we displayed on the message board, there was good explanations given accompanying it, such as why we were sharing that information.

Q. Did you share any salary information?

A. All salary information was lump-summed in with total operating costs.  Sharing that information would have made the staff very vulnerable.  There are really two sides to sharing financial information. We shared direct costs with the community, because we wanted to focus on participation and involve them in decision-making.  But then we also want to share lump-sums for total operating costs in order to build trust and be transparent.  It is also useful to share the total budget as it shows the balance between what is spend on operating and programming costs.  Sharing this information forces you to think about whether or not the costs have been allocated well.  I do think, though, that if we had not shared the operations costs, the community would have asked for it.

For more information on the Accountability Club contact sarnason@care.org or klove@care.org.

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On the most recent Accountability Club call we were fortunate to have representatives from CARE, Christian Aid, the Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC), the ECB Project Team, Merlin, Oxfam, Save the Children, and World Vision.  The topic of the conversation was financial transparency, and the discussion was rich.  Angela, CARE agency manager and standing team member, shared her experiences in the field.

Angela: In 2010-2011 I ran various projects for CARE in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), providing multi-sectoral support for displaced families living with host families.  This work started with a pilot project in Goma using funding from the DEC.  The funding was quite flexible and allowed us room for decision-making and revisions of the planned expenditures per sector.  We started by setting up a committee of community representatives in the two areas of the town where we were working.  We then worked closely with this committee to determine selection criteria for beneficiaries and reviewed the proposed project together, including presenting the project budget.  Direct project costs were shared in more detail, but other costs, including salaries and costs of being operational there, were lumped into one sum due to sensitivities around salary information.

The planned interventions were in shelter, food and non-food items (NFIs), and we presented various shelter design and cost options, as well as different food and NFI options, and together decided what type of shelter beneficiaries would receive and how much money would go to each sector.  We also decided jointly what modality was preferred for delivery – shelter would be in-kind and food/NFIs would be through a cash voucher scheme.

Q. What were some of your key challenges?

A. At that time it was not usual to share financial information. The community representatives appreciated the chance to contribute to decisions and have an understanding of the budget.  Budgets can be extremely complicated, so a challenge is how to share the information without confusing people.  We drew up the budget on flipcharts as simply as possible, calculated costs per beneficiary family to make the amounts more tangible and went through everything verbally.

Q. What were some of the advantages of sharing this information?

A. We were able to offer different options with the shelter, and the community could make a decision on what they felt was appropriate.  Did they want us to spend more to build a more elaborate shelter and then spend less on food or NFIs? Or would their preference be a more basic shelter extension, that would allow us to spend more on food and NFIs, or somewhere between the two?  This ensured that the intervention was really relevant to them, and we received great feedback from the beneficiaries. Additionally, we surprisingly received good feedback from non-beneficiaries.  When the project ended, one of the community committees was still active for at least a year after, as the community continued to do their own fundraising from local businesses and implement their own little projects.

Q. What information was shared with partners?  What was included in the partner agreement?

A. We didn’t have partners on that first project, but it may be tricky working with local partners with full transparency.  I previously worked with Merlin in DRC where we worked with the local health authorities, and I definitely wouldn’t have shared the full project financial information with certain individuals as they may well have used it against us to leverage higher ‘primes’ (a subsidy from Merlin on top of their normal Ministry of Health salary).

On this point Lucy from Oxfam shared that during an Oxfam program in West Bank they were completely transparent with their partners and conducted the budgeting process with them. They also shared financial information with communities with whom they worked.  The level of comfort they felt in this relationship was, however, mainly due to the long-term relationship they had with these partners. They had built trust over time, but she also noted that the more information you share, the more trust you build. It is a long-term process, but it’s worth working through.

Read the second half of this interview here!

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Last week, the third Accountability “Book Club” (now known as the “Accountability Club”) took place, hosted by Hana with Save the Children.  The topic was Complaints and Response Mechanisms (CRMs).  There were no prior reading materials, but instead the group simply shared their learning and experiences from their own work.  Though the group was small, the conversation was quite rich! Participants included Accountability and Impact Measurement (AIM) Advisers and Standing Team members.  Below is a summary of some of the key topics covered:

Aligning CRMs with agency HR procedures

Hana shared how Save The Children categorizes its complaints and how it reacts accordingly. Upon receipt, complaints are categorized into one of 4 types:

1. Minor dissatisfaction
E.g. a household kit is missing; Save staff said they would come back to talk to someone but didn’t

2. Major dissatisfaction
E.g. a hand pump was fitted but doesn’t work; half of a distribution list is family members of the chief

3. Inappropriate behaviour of staff
E.g. staff members asking for payment to be put on a distribution list; rude or verbally abusive behaviour; misappropriation of project goods

4. Serious staff misconduct
E.g. physical or sexual abuse; fraud; corruption.

The first two categories may derail a program and need to be addressed, but are of a different nature to the latter two, which relate closely to Save’s staff code of conduct. If any complaints are received that fall into categories 3 or 4 the relevant HR disciplinary procedures would be followed, including—if appropriate—the necessary judiciary processes. Serious staff misconduct would be reported immediately to the HR Director and a crisis action meeting called within 2 hours as a first step in the follow-up.

This highlights the importance of setting up your CRM in conjunction with your HR department to ensure that your mechanism and how you act on complaints aligns with HR procedures.

How do you give feedback when a complaint is submitted anonymously?

Complainants may not always want to be identified, for example for fear of retribution. How can you provide feedback on actions taken in response to a complaint if you do not know who submitted it? In a CARE program in the Democratic Republic of Congo a monthly overview was provided of all the complaints received and what action had been taken. To protect confidentiality, no names or other information that could lead to the individual being identified were included. This overview was published on a public notice board and was also shared verbally in community meetings and with community leaders.

 This type of sharing enables feedback on anonymous complaints and provides a transparent overview to the community of the complaints received and actions taken. World Vision in Kenya currently follows a similar approach, but also shares this information via the local radio.

Using a variety of approaches to target a variety of beneficiaries

High-tech CRMs could mean high exclusion: In 2011, Save the Children used an SMS-based complaints system in its Pakistan response. Staff would place phone calls to each SMS complaint received to discuss the issue. The system worked very well, but upon analysis Save realized that mostly men used it. Consultations were then held with women on how to include them, and the system was subsequently revised.

When setting up a CRM it is important to think about the diversity of stakeholders and consult different groups in the design phase of your CRM. As this example also shows, it is also worth monitoring who uses the system so you can improve your approach.
In Dadaab camp in Kenya Save set up hot desks in their child-friendly spaces for children to speak about their complaints. In other programs these hot desks may be in schools or other places you find children. Don’t expect them to come to you—your CRM may have to have proactive elements. For more about Save’s CRM in Dadaab, see this blog

How formal should a CRM be? A look at a community CRM

In CARE Niger’s program in Konni a community level complaints system was set up so that complaints could be handled without necessarily involving the agency, CARE. This helped to successfully and quickly resolve some major and many minor dissatisfactions, such as the omission of a Cash for Work beneficiary on a payment list. The system is well set up, with elected members sitting on a complaints committee. The community knows who the members are and has confidence in them and their ability to resolve problems. Anything that cannot be resolved by the committee is raised either with the local chief or with CARE staff, as appropriate, and resolved at that level. On the whole, it is a system that works well, and the beneficiaries have even reported a decrease in community conflict as a result of this committee—yet this is not a culture where documenting information through writing is common. Nothing is written down. Having to write complaints and documenting the process may actually discourage people from reporting complaints in a community with an oral tradition.  

So how can you ensure each complaint receives a reaction? How do you know your community CRM is working? How do you make sure you are improving the quality of your programming? How do you capture the learning and share it so that others do not repeat mistakes? Agency staff could carry out a regular debrief with the community committee to capture data and lessons learned.

World Vision in Kenya has made a formal system work: each complaint is documented and a receipt is given to the complainant. They did this by wide community sensitization which emphasised the importance of this system, particularly to ensure mistakes are not repeated. Including a name in the complaint remained optional, as that was the greatest barrier in documenting process.

As was shown in the example of Save in Pakistan and CARE in Niger, the method of registering a complaint should accommodate the culture and diversity of target beneficiaries to ensure a robust, far-reaching mechanism that can be accessed by boys, girls, men and women alike. Doing a stakeholder analysis and asking different stakeholder groups can help you design your mechanism.

Want to know more?

Whether you want to review your current CRM or are thinking about setting one up, have a look at sections 4 and 5 of the Good Enough Guide and tool 12 to guide you! Also, check out some previous blogs: Part I and Part II on case studies on complaints handling. 
The next Accountability Club will be held on June 14th and will cover the topic of financial transparency in response.  More information to come!

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To explore important reading material and issues related to accountability and impact measurement, the idea of a book club was born in December of last year. A book club is both a group and a meeting to discuss a pre-assigned reading, allowing deeper exploration of issues through sharing of our opinions of and our own experiences with the issues. The book clubs have thus far been chaired by an AIM Adviser.

The first book club was in December and was facilitated by AIM Adviser Loretta Ishida from CRS. It discussed the October 2011 Humanitarian Exchange issue on accountability in humanitarian action (see December 6 blog). Approximately 15 AIM Advisers, Standing Team members, and interested ECB agency staff from around the world participated in the conference call. Despite some technical difficulties in using skype, the conversation was rich.

Save the Children, 2011

The second book club took place in January and was chaired by AIM Advisory Lucy Heaven from Oxfam. They discussed Joint Complaints Mechanisms (JCM), but there was no required reading. Before the book club convened, interested participants were given a choice of three topics and JCM was the winner. The book club discussed:

  • when Joint Complaints Mechanisms are appropriate/preferred (fewer agencies, trust between agencies, working in same target area, when population do not know which agency does what)
  • a few known examples of JCMs in the field (Haiti, Dadaab, Ethiopia, Pakistan)
  •  the requirement that participating agencies agree on how to process complaints (protocol, types of complaints to handle, communication to community about mechanism).
  • Quality control: Every agency must respond to complaints; otherwise the reputation of all agencies is at stake.
  • whether implementing a Joint Complaints Mechanism is more or less work for each agency compared to implementing a complaints mechanism alone (more work to set up, but easier in long run, easier if one agency already knows how to do it)
  • examples of Joint Complaints Mechanisms existing beyond the project and handed over to local government or schools (Ethiopia)

Lucy told us:  “It was a great call, and we really got a chance to discuss things in a bit more depth than usual.  No ‘right answers’, just experience and learning from our peers!”

Feel free to recommend a reading for discussion to the Standing Team Coordinator. And watch out for an email from Katy announcing the next book club!

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