Archive for the ‘System tools’ Category

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

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

Two useful ECB tools:

  1. Joint Initial Rapid Assessment Data Collection Tool

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

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

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

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

  1. Shared Assessment online tool

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

This prototype tool enables users to:

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

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

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Given that many of you speak Spanish and French as your first language, we thought we’d find out what accountability tools are out there in Spanish and French. Some of these you have probably already seen, but some should be new. Feel free to share here any tools in French or Spanish you have found useful with the rest of the Standing Team!

ECB Project

The ECB Project website has several accountability tools in Spanish and French, like the Good Enough Guide (GEG).  For more on the GEG, see this previous blog post.

GEG in Spanish;  GEG French

GEG Training and Communication materials in Spanish and French.  These include posters, leaflets, films and training guides.

GEG poster

For developing these  GEG materials yourself, use this guidelines: Technical guidelines in Spanish and French.


Sphere Handbook in Spanish; Sphere Handbook in French

Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP)

You can use ALNAP’s Evaluative Reports Database to search for documents in French or Spanish. You can search by agency, year, country, region, keyword (i.e. accountability, coordination, etc.) and type of document (i.e. evaluation, lessons paper, manuals, articles, etc.).

Groupe URD (Urgence Réhabilitation Développement)   

Groupe URD is a non-profit research institute which works on evaluations, methodology and training to improve humanitarian practice for crisis-affected populations.

URD website in Spanish  URD website in French

The Participation handbook for humanitarian field workers contains detailed practical advice on the participation of affected people in humanitarian action. Chapters can be downloaded in Spanish or French.

The Quality COMPAS is a Quality Assurance method  in the humanitarian sector which comes equipped with its own set of tools, training modules and consultancy services.

Quality COMPAS in Spanish and French.
COMPAS training modules in Spanish and French.

Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP)

Case studies and tools in French and Creole

Materials for building staff awareness on quality and accountability and Quick reference tools for staff in French and Creole

Sharing Information in Creole, French and Spanish

Participation in French

Handling Complaints in French and Creole

World Vision

These structured discussion guides for beneficiaries and staff to improve accountability in the field were developed in Sri Lanka in order to evaluate the impact of World Vision’s Humanitarian Accountability Team.  In Creole and French.

Here are one page visuals showing the steps to set up and run a complaints mechanism in French and Creole. These were developed in Haiti in 2010.

Christian Aid

"Accountability is not an add-on." (Christian Aid)

Check out some accountability cartoons in Spanish!

Catholic Agency For Overseas Development (CAFOD) 

Accountability Briefing: Handling Community Feedback / Complaints provides a basic step-by-step guide for partners of CAFOD to handle community feedback and complaints as part of development and/or humanitarian projects. Available in Spanish and French.

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source: ECB Project, ACAPS

We are thrilled to announce the upcoming Bangladesh Standing Team deployment. Details are still forthcoming, but here’s a bit we can share with you now.

When: 3 weeks in April

Who: 1-2 AIM Standing Team member and 1 AIM Adviser

Costs: The Bangladesh consortium will cover the costs of the trip, and Save the Children Bangladesh is lead there.

To do what: review and document the current practice of accountability of the 7 agencies of the consortium, and create an action plan for improvement

Details: While the Terms of Reference is still in draft form, the AIM ST member and the AIM Adviser may:

  • Review the practices of accountability at the agency level through pre-existing data on accountability and other agency-level reports, and through field visits and interviews
  • Design and facilitate a day long interactive workshop to share the findings, including best practices and identified gaps  in practice of accountability
  • Write a report on the findings
  •  Design an action plan

Contact the  Standing Team Coordinator with questions or expression of interest!

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Hi Standing Team!

We thought you’d like to understand a bit more about ECB so here’s an introduction to ECB’s Good Enough Guide: Impact Measurement and Accountability in Emergencies. You might find its origin interesting!

The Good Enough Guide (GEG) originated out of the fact that there was too much material on the topic and that the bar (Sphere standards, etc.) was set too high, particularly during early phases of emergencies.  The Guide was written to provide a concise, pocket-sized synthesis of existing materials in simple language and basic “how-to” tools for field staff most in contact with beneficiaries, i.e. project managers and technical specialists.

As described in the “What is” section of the GEG,

“…’good enough’ means choosing a simple solution rather than an elaborate one.  ‘Good enough’ does not mean second best; it means acknowledging that, in an emergency response, adopting a quick and simple approach to impact measurement and accountability may be the only practical possibility.  When the situation changes; you should aim to review your chosen solution and amend your approach accordingly.”

In 2006, representatives from the ECB agencies created the Basic Elements of Accountability and Impact Measurement, which are the foundation for the Good Enough Guide. A consultant was hired to collect input and feedback from field staff to ensure it was written in a language they could understand and it met their needs. The Guide includes 14 tools from various sources. The Guide helps field workers ask questions such as “What difference are we making? How do we know? How can we involve the men and women affected by an emergency in planning, implementing, and judging our response?”

The Guide was field tested in emergency and recovery contexts in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala. From the first year of its publication, the GEG has been OXFAM Publishing’s second-best seller after Sphere.   Another example of the demand that exists is that the GEG has been published in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, along with Bahasa Indonesia, Hindi, Chinese, Bangla, Russian, and more. These small yellow handbooks are available for purchase in hard copy from Oxfam. Or get in touch with the Standing Team Coordinator!

 In order to equip staff from the ECB agencies to train colleagues on  basic principles of accountability and impact measurement, we are coming out with a revised Training of Trainers module based on the Good Enough  Guide. We’ll let you know when that is available, and of course we’ll ask for your feedback.

Additionally, on the ECB Project website you can find various training  and communication materials to spread the messages of AIM to both communities and field staff. Materials include accountability films, multi-lingual posters and leaflets. The materials are available in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, Bangla, and Burmese, and in both in PDF or editable format for you to download. You can edit the translations or design your own images to make them relevant in your context.

Tell us what you think!

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We learned from the Bangladesh experience with the Good Enough Guide. In Bangladesh, they have developed materials to communicate the key messages with various stakeholders.  The development of such materials like leaflets, posters, and videos,  has been done in a number of other countries. The GEG is available in 13 languages, and the supporting materials are available in six. If Standing Team members want to adapt the materials for their context, they can use these guidelines to do so.

The Bangladesh ECB consortium has done a lot more than this, though. They’ve done extensive training of staff, and developed a contextualized Training of Trainers module. They’ve even developed a folk song to communicate the key messages to beneficiary populations!

The discussion highlights are below: (more…)

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