Archive for the ‘Accountability elements’ Category

Standing team members Hugh Earp (ECB Project) and Angela Rouse (CARE International) recently attended a talk on communication technology and accountability to crisis-affected populations. The event profiled two projects funded by the Humanitarian Innovation Fund which aim to improve NGO accountability to communities in crisis through the use of innovative communication technology.  Here, Angela gives a little background on the complaints mechanism that DRC is using in Somalia.

Piloting Accountability Systems for Humanitarian Aid in Somalia

In Somalia the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is seeking to address accountability in the context of remote management so as to enable meaningful beneficiary participation and strengthen the demand-side of local level governance and community-based organisations.  The organisation is using mobile phones, internet, on-line communities and social media to collect feedback from communities, all of which are mapped using the Ushahidi platform, first used to map reports of election violence in Kenya in 2010.  Community members are able to send a text message using their mobile phone with any feedback or complaint on DRC’s activities.  This text is payable at the normal, local rate which seems not to be a barrier to submitting an issue.  The SMS is received and reviewed by a dashboard administrator, who removes any identifying information for confidentiality purposes and posts the message to the map.  Have a look at the map here.  You can zoom in and then review complaints by location.   For example, on 19 March 2012 the complaint illustrated below was submitted – you will see the location mapped, the original complaint and the translation and – importantly – the follow up that was made in response.  Thinking back on tool 12 of the Good Enough Guide you’ll see this system ticks many boxes:

  • it is an accessible system provided you have access to a mobile, although there are also other ways in which complaints can be submitted, such as through agency staff
  • complaints are handled in a clear, systematic way that ensure each complaint receives a response and appropriate action
  • the complainant receives a text message confirming receipt of the complaint
  • it allows tracking of whether the complaint has been investigated and acted upon, or whether it is still pending
  • it helps to promote consistency: ensuring similar complaints receive a similar response
  • confidentiality is ensured
  • it allows learning: statistics and trends can be tracked and can inform future approaches and programming.

SMS feedback

More information on this project can be found here.

The second project that was presented was around using the radio to communicate with communities in an interactive way in Haiti.  Read more about it here: Mobile technology – listening to the voice of Haitians.


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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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In July, 28 humanitarian practitioners from 22 organizations met in Kenya for a 6-day course on “Enhancing Quality and Accountability in Humanitarian Action.” organized by the Inter- Agency Working Group (IAWG) – Quality and Accountability Sub Group and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO).  The course resulted in compiled recommendations and proposals to be presented to the various Quality and Accountability (Q&A) initiatives.  Below is a summary of some of the key recommendations.  You can read the entire report here.

Recommendations to Q&A initiatives from field practitioners

  1. Consolidate core standards and cross-cutting issues in Q&A initiatives to simplify work for field practitioners and ensure consistency.
  2. Share experiences and reports to communicate what is or is not working in Q&A.
  3. Increase advocacy for capacity building, funding, and resource mobilization.
  4. Establish Q&A advisors at main humanitarian hubs in the field.
  5. Evaluate implementation of Q&A standards by humanitarian organizations.
  6. Conduct an independent evaluation of Q&A initiatives in the last 20 years using the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development – Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) criteria.
  7. Support increasing partnerships between Q&A initiatives, governments, universities, donors and other stakeholders.

Recommendations to Q&A initiatives on cross-cutting themes

Participants ask questions during the panel discussion

Recommendations were also made on specific themes such as: quality and accountability in remote contexts, complaints and feedback mechanisms, and linking emergencies with early recovery and development. 



Proposal for issues that should be included in all Q&A initiatives

Issues related to people themselves: Issues related to context:
  • Gender
  • Life-threatening diseases (HIV/AIDS, cancer, etc.)
  • Disabilities
  • Children, youth, and elderly
  • Psychosocial issues
  • Protection and security (including “do no harm”)
  • Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management
  • Environment

Good Enough Guide table at the Share Fair

The final day of the course was a share fair funded by the ECB Project.  The share fair enabled participants to present and discuss in small groups with external stakeholders the various Q&A initiatives as well as transversal themes, based on the 2-page papers developed during the course.  This event was attended by 90 participants including donors, NGOs, UN agencies and media.

All background materials for the course have been posted to www.disasterriskreduction.net.

Discussing the Good Enough Guide

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“All affected people should be treated as dignified, capable human beings, rather than as helpless objects. The way aid is provided may be as important as the aid itself. Affected populations should participate in the making of decisions that affect their lives. Participation is both a universal right and good management practice.” (Annex: ‘Principles, Standards And Evaluation Criteria For Humanitarian Aid’ The European Consensus On Humanitarian Aid (2008/C 25/01)

In May of this year, ECHO published “Review of Existing Practices to Ensure Participation of Disaster-Affected Communities in Humanitarian Aid Operations,” a review of methodologies and best practices to engage host communities as active participants in humanitarian responses.

This report provides an overview of policies and best practices in participation drawn from relevant case studies and successes of various humanitarian and development organizations, while highlighting risks and challenges to increased participation of local and affected communities in humanitarian operations. The report includes an analysis of donor funding policies and provides insight into how policy is formulated and executed in various humanitarian emergencies and events. ECHO undertook this review in an effort to increase understanding in the field about current trends and best practices in participatory approaches to humanitarian interventions documented over the last five years by key actors in the sector.

Key Findings from the Report:

  • Increasing need to consider participation of affected communities in humanitarian operations and responses from a rights-based approach in all areas of operations.
  • Identified key factors that influence participation levels, most notably the context (scale and nature) of the crisis.
  • Benefits of community participation in humanitarian response are growing and include cost effectiveness, stronger monitoring and evaluation, stronger advocacy, keeping the interventions appropriate in evolving situations, and increased safety and security in regards to humanitarian access.
  • Each humanitarian event will require its own approach to community participation and crosscutting methodologies including Do No Harm, provision of information, community consultation, mobilising the community, maintaining dialogue with the community, and maintaining flexibility.  These are all fundamental components to participatory approaches in humanitarian responses.
  • Continued risks persist that hinder community participation, including context, traditions and customs of local leadership, and managing expectations of communities, donors, and humanitarian organizations.

The report also includes a set of recommendations for future humanitarian interventions, with the aim of integrating community participation in the design and implementation of humanitarian operations within the context of the local community.

We encourage you to review the report and let us know what you think in the comment section below!

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This blog post was submitted by Mariane Mathia, Monitoring & Evaluation Officer with CRS Jerusalem.  After discovering that accountability was being implemented across programs, but not in a unified manner, Mariane collected the following information, used it to conduct an internal workshop, and is now helping to implement an accountability strategy across all departments. Thank you Mariane for sharing your experience!

There are four simple steps to ensure accountability (the 4 Cs!):

1. Count: This step focuses on basic tracking of inputs and outputs through routine project control systems. These may include distribution records, warehouse registers, cash-for-work records, etc. They assure that the beneficiaries received the intended goods or services of the project or intervention.

2. Check: This step focuses on verification of content and process with the beneficiaries. It is about checking whether the outputs are appropriate and relevant and whether they will be effectively utilized per the intended purpose.

3. Change: This step focuses on improving interventions based on counts and checks, the intervention may need to be changed or adapted. The information should be reviewed by staff with program decisions made accordingly.

4. Communicate: This step focuses on consistent exchange of information. Consider the range of information needed by multiple stakeholders for timely information for decision making, and the importance of the accuracy of information. Both good and bad news should be delivered with the source of information, and an explanation if it is incomplete. Communication should be extensive and consistent with beneficiaries (men and women, old and young, different social and ethnic groups), government, other agencies, and donors throughout the life of the project.

Banner displayed at a CRS event

Means of Communication

At every CRS activity a banner is placed with information about CRS, its vision, mission and objectives. The information is presented in clear language (Arabic and English), formats, and media (announcements, flyers, etc.) in order to provide beneficiaries with timely, relevant and clear information.

Opportunities for involvement: Dates and locations of distributions are announced in city councils, mosques, and municipalities. On every distribution site a flyer is posted with contact information for beneficiaries to call if they have any complaints, questions, or comments about the distribution process.

In line to provide feedback at a CRS office

Dealing with complaints: Beneficiaries complain either by phone or come to the office. The Head of office or CRS coordinator asks them to fill a complaint form. The forms are studied and investigated with head of office in order to resolve such problems as complaints about a distributor, unavailable goods in distribution points, increasing prices, or bias in the distribution cycle.

Beneficiary Satisfaction: Beneficiaries are involved by filling the Beneficiary Satisfaction Forms during or after distributions. The form utilized in the surveying process gathers feedback from beneficiaries on the aid distribution, selection of beneficiaries, compatibility of the distribution points, treatment of beneficiaries during distribution, and the level of satisfaction of the commodities received. The information is used to inform the M&E Satisfaction Report. This report allows CRS to analyze beneficiary feedback to make appropriate changes to the intervention to improve the delivery of goods and services.

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Jambo! It has been nine days since Syma and I have been deployed to Nairobi to support OCHA, ACAPS and UNICEF to build a more coherent and comprehensive approach to Rapid Needs Assessment in Kenya. Essentially, our task is to ensure that accountability elements are considered in the Rapid Needs Assessment Training that ACAPS is leading. After a two hour short hop from Lusaka, it was nice to meet my colleague Syma from Oxfam (I am sure she had a long haul as she was screaming for coffee!).

Monday morning we got to meet our wonderful ECB host, Elizabeth (who, I must add, has been terrific throughout this deployment). We spent the whole of last week preparing for the training working with Emese and Susan from ACAPs.  We introduced the elements of accountability to the trainees, how to collect data with accountability in mind, integrating the cross cutting themes and sharing information (assessment results) with communities. In addition, we were also asked to come in throughout the workshop to raise the accountability flag wherever necessary.

Syma Preparing for the Workshop

Syma has been good in thinking out of the box and coming up with innovative ways to weave accountability into the training workshop. With good discussions and a busy time preparing the materials, the week flew past! Over the weekend, Syma amazingly found time to get herself some useful ‘clappers ‘ as workshop material. These are a set of colourful plastic hands that really make a nice clapping sound!  She also did not miss out on the wonderful art Kenya offers and bought herself a snake made of soft drink bottle tops, as I spent the morning at a museum tracking the origins of humankind and understanding the long and interesting history of Kenya.

After a week of preparation our ‘real’ assignment kicked off. The venue is a good one hour from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi and offers great game views along the way. After a brisk lunch, we headed straight to the workshop. Our first task was to introduce the basic elements of accountability. To achieve this, we used the ‘Bus to Tentaka’ scenario developed by my colleague Goldan from WV Sri Lanka. The scenario is a busy bus station with a lot of passengers waiting for a weekly bus. When the bus comes, the passengers surge and swarm the bus, some passengers inevitably fail to get seats, while those lucky enough to get into the bus are delayed. A conflict ensues in the process. This created a good discussion forum on accountability and set out a nice platform. The session went well and a quick peek at the session evaluation forms shows a generally positive impression from the participants.

Syma Facilitating – “Doing The Data Collection With Respect” Session

Having set the tempo on the first day on Sunday, it was much easier to keep the accountability momentum on the next  few days of the workshop. Syma shared a presentation on good accountability practices before, during, and after assessment data collection. Evaluation forms for this session gave very high marks! An assessment scenario developed by Oxfam, but contextualized for Kenya, was used to test the participants’ understanding of good accountability practices during assessments. The importance of engaging community leaders and managing community expectations came out as key lessons for this session.

 The next session was aimed at highlighting cross cutting themes in the context of a Rapid Assessment. Some of the cross cutting themes included disability, gender, protection and environment. To make the session spicy, it was structured around a talent show called Kenya’s Got Talent. Participants were asked to choose one cross cutting theme and do a 90 second performance before a panel of experts (Cross Cutting Themes SMEs). This really brought the house down while sending the message home on cross cutting themes. In addition to the presentations, the ECB team set up an Accountability Corner in the workshop venue to allow participants to go through various accountability resources available. The Good Enough Guide has been a hit.

We are now at the end of this hectic yet exciting deployment. We got a chance to visit communities within Nairobi’s informal settlements to test the assessment data collection tool. It is always refreshing to meet communities and get to hear their stories. During the debrief session for the field work, it was encouraging to note the awareness of accountability issues among participants. We look forward to finishing strong.

Stay tuned for more updates from Syma and Sajilu on their successful deployment to Kenya!

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PHOTO: Brendon Bannon, HAP’s Report “To Complain or Not To Complain”

PSEA (preventing sexual exploitation and abuse) is about preventing us, the assistance community, from abusing and exploiting the people we come into contact with. The UN defines sexual exploitation and abuse as follows:

‘Sexual exploitation’ means any actual or attempted abuse of a position of vulnerability, differential power, or trust, for sexual purposes, including, but not limited to, profiting monetarily, socially or politically, from the sexual exploitation of another. Similarly, the term ‘sexual abuse’ means the actual or threatened physical intrusion of a sexual nature, whether by force or under unequal or coercive conditions.

Despite various prevention measures in place such as the Codes of Conduct and PSEA trainings throughout the humanitarian community, sexual exploitation and abuse is still prevalent. Two reports in 2008 by Save the Children and HAP found that despite preventative measures taken by the international community, sexual exploitation and abuse by humanitarian agency staff was still widespread.

So what is the link between PSEA and accountability? As we know, accountability is ‘the responsible use of power’ – and SEA represents an abuse of power in a most fundamental way. We have committed to serving people in the most vulnerable situations, and if our own staff abuse and exploit them, we are completely negating what we have set out to achieve.

In practical terms, there are many ways in which accountability and PSEA are linked. The Good Enough Guide, the HAP Standard and the IASC Accountability Operational Framework tools all refer to the role of accountability in preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. In particular, when implementing accountability there are several key areas of overlap with PSEA. These are some examples.

PHOTO: Kate Earle

Information sharing: it is good practice to inform communities with whom we work that sexual exploitation and abuse by our staff is prohibited – for example, beneficiaries do not have to exchange sex for goods or services.Staff behaviour: attitudes and behaviour are key to being accountable, and this includes zero tolerance of exploitative and abusive behaviour.

Complaints mechanisms: this is perhaps the area where you are most likely to encounter PSEA issues. Complaints and feedback mechanisms do sometimes capture complaints relating to sexual exploitation and abuse.

In addition to the above, there is another reason why PSEA may arise in the course of our work. As Standing Team members, you will be travelling in and out of programmes. We know from experience with similar roles that this puts you in a unique position. You may uncover issues that have been buried or overlooked by long-term staff. As an ‘outsider’, staff may also raise concerns with you that they feel aren’t being dealt with by the existing management structure, hoping that you can do something about it.

So what should you do if you encounter issues relating to sexual exploitation and abuse? Well first of all, don’t panic! We know that this is an extremely tricky and sensitive subject to deal with. That is why there’s lots of help available. Your agency, or the agency deploying you, should have a procedure for dealing with allegations and concerns. It is worth familiarizing yourself with this before a deployment. Remember, confidentiality is of utmost importance when dealing with SEA, so only disclose information to the necessary contacts.

PHOTO: Kate Earle

On a general level, you can use opportunities in your work to promote PSEA. Your agency may have awareness-raising tools to help you. In addition, there are external resources available.

HAP has resources to support PSEA and run regular training workshops on investigating complaints of SEA.

Keeping Children Safe focuses specifically on providing resources on child protection in humanitarian and development programmes.

The UN PSEA Task Force have a portal containing all sorts of tools, resources and information

A note about the author: Lucy Heaven Taylor, consultant, was formerly with Oxfam GB, working on their accountability team.

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Horn of Africa crisis: Food security situation (November-December 2011). Source: UNCS, FEWS NET, FSNAU, FAO, OCHA.

The drought in East Africa has affected an estimated 10 million people.  In July 2011, People in Aid, the Sphere Project, and HAP International called for greater quality and accountability in this response.  Under the umbrella of the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI), the three initiatives deployed to the Horn of Africa for nine weeks in order to support and advocate for quality and accountability in the humanitarian response, document strengths and gaps, and share good practices regionally, as well as globally.

The final report on this initiative raises important issues regarding not only the response in the Horn, but, when considered alongside similar findings from deployments to Haiti and Pakistan, issues pertaining to the state of global humanitarian response.  The most clear and critical overall finding?  There is a general need for better engagement with affected populations throughout the project cycle. 

Specific findings include:

  • The need to create special measures to access vulnerable groups
  • The need for a rights-based approach and ensuring that beneficiaries understand their rights and can hold organizations accountable for their actions. 
  • The importance of community-wide participation
  • Building resilience into program design
  • The need for coordination and collaboration in order to prevent duplication and uneven distribution of aid
  • Recruitment, staff management, and increased contextual knowledge of staff (and how the lack of contextual knowledge is a major barrier of accountability towards affected communities) continue to be issues
  • Establishment and awareness of complaint and response mechanisms

As evidenced in this report, there is still a lot of work to be done.  Interestingly enough, the report states that “most staff from HAP’s membership and People In Aid’s membership were unaware of the Standards and had not been made of aware of their organizations accountability commitments” (page 10 ).  Effectively engaging with communities throughout the project cycle is of paramount importance.  The Standing Team’s assistance in implementing accountability and impact measurement initiatives is critically important as we ensure higher quality humanitarian response globally. 

Please take a look at the Joint Standards Initiative report and let us know your thoughts!

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How do we communicate effectively when communication truly matters? How do we effectively design and deliver our message in times of crises? 

Communication is an integral part of preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. Infoasaid is launching an e-learning course on communication called “Communication is Aid.” This course aims to raise awareness and build basic skills on how to communicate effectively in communities affected by crisis, focusing on both preparedness and skills to use during emergencies.

The course addresses themes including why communication matters, how to know your target audience, how to craft and adapt your message, and how communication is a two-way process. It is divided into five modules. The first two modules are introdcutory. The remaining three modules are interactive, scenario-based challenges and involve learners having to make communication decisions during an earthquake, a post conflict situation, and a hurricane/flood.

The course can be accessed from the website and will also be available on CD-ROM for those with limited internet access.  If you haven’t already, please check out the previously posted infoasaid video on the importance of communication in emergencies.  For more information on the course, please contact admin@infoasaid.org. 

If you do take the course, please post your thoughts here! We’d love to know about your experience!

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In this video, Save the Children staff share their perspectives on what accountability means in their work.  Keep an eye out for Standing Team member Denis Onoise (Save the Children Nigeria) as he expresses why he believes accountability is important and what it takes to make accountability happen.

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