Archive for the ‘Processes’ 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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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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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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Standing Team member Emmanuel, World Vision’s Accountability, Monitoring and Evaluations Officer, brought to our attention this interesting accountability project featured in April on infoasaid.org

Through a sponsored 45 minute weekly show on local radio station Anguo FM and via messages sent to mobile telephones, communities are relayed information on issues ranging from how to spot signs of malnutrition in children to prices of livestock in the main local markets to a description of content on the latest food aid package along with date of delivery.

Emmanuel live on the radio!

When we spoke with Emmanuel, he stated that hosting this radio program forces him and his team to take accountability very seriously.  If he receives a complaint or feedback for change, and no action is taken, the community will continue to call back.  It is quite beneficial for the community, because they always know when, where and how to find him!

In regards to communication, Emmanuel states, “You go to a community and you give them the water tablets and they might or might not use them – or they might use them in the wrong way.  Sharing information is a critical to accountability.  If the beneficiaries have the right information they can make the right judgement for themselves.”

Read the full story here!

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In this recent blog, we discussed a study and report on the communication efforts during the response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 and the cholera outbreak that began the following October. The report, written by Imogen Wall with Yves Gerald Chéry, is entitled Ann Kite Yo Pale: Let Them Speak: Best practice and lessons learned in communication with disaster affected communities: Haiti 2010 . Here we continue with some examples of communication with local media and local people during the response.

Agency Communication with Local Media

After the earthquake, there was a desperate need among the disaster-affected to receive and to provide information. International aid agencies worked mainly with international media, not the local media that was quite active after the quake. In general, local media found it difficult and frustrating to engage with humanitarian actors, as well as access international agencies due to the barriers of language.  Few staff of international agencies even long-established in Haiti spoke Kreyol. Local journalists could not access the UN base outside of the city to attend press conferences for the first few months following the natural disaster, and press releases and situation reports were not translated into French. Even a year after the quake, journalists were still finding it hard to work with humanitarian agencies.  The report states:

Given the lack of dedicated local communication staff, few organisations were prepared to spend any time going to local radio studios and giving interviews or explaining their work. Those that did, however, found that communicating did not just help fill the information vacuum among the affected population, it delivered considerable operational benefits.

Below are examples of aid agencies that benefited from engaging with local media:

World Food Program (WFP)

The WFP had to manage food distribution to more than a million people. After a chaotic first run, they introduced a voucher system and hired a local spokesperson, Fedrique Pierre, to explain the system to the local media and thus to the affected population. CDAC Haiti, a consortium of humanitarian agencies and media organizations that coordinate communication in emergency response, put WFP in touch with local radio stations. Mr. Pierre gave more than 150 interviews in his first month and became so popular that he was nicknamed ‘Mr. Rice.’

Because there was no systematized feedback mechanism, ‘Mr. Rice’ decided to give out his mobile number.  Hundreds of people called and texted him to relay their gratitude for the information or tell him which area lacked food. (SMS-based feedback mechanisms were quite common in the earthquake response). He created a spreadsheet on his computer to track all the information received on his phone, and WFP used such information in the operational and decision-making processes, “enabling WFP to respond quickly to any problems.”

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

The UNFPA hired a Haitian American spokesperson who spoke fluent Kreyol to work with local and international media. “He worked with the gender-based violence team to record and broadcast a series of public service announcements (PSAs) with advice for victims. Based on anecdotal feedback, UNFPA say the response to the PSAs helped convince the Police Nationale d’Haiti to step up their patrols in the camps.”

Jamil Simon

Agency communication with people

Due to high mobile phone usage, the people of Haiti were able to communicate with agencies unlike ever before. The ENDK radio show shared the phone numbers of agencies, and feedback was collected through phone calls and SMS. Few agencies established feedback systems in the early phase of the response. Those that did, however, did not find the flood of feedback unmanageable, as some agencies expected, and confirm that this feedback was invaluable, allowing them to gather real-time information on survivors needs.


The study recommended the following for humanitarian aid agencies:

“The humanitarian system and agencies need to recognise the importance of communication as a sector and as an essential aspect of successful operational delivery of humanitarian assistance.”

There is a need to:

  • Reform humanitarian funding criteria to include communication as a legitimate form of humanitarian assistance
  • Incorporate communication work into the project design and budget
  • Prioritize communication with affected communities at the cluster level, employ local communication staff
  • Develop a feedback system for the disaster-affected, explore SMS or web-based feedback systems
  • Coordinate communication to avoid duplication of efforts and provide consistent and accurate information

For more about communication in emergency response, see this blog, and to read more about the work of CDAC Haiti, click 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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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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