Archive for the ‘Standards and frameworks’ Category

“I want you to all picture yourselves on one of the Indonesian islands. Form for yourselves a character – perhaps you are a rural farmer or perhaps you live in an urban area and make your money selling shoes on the street. Do you have any family, and do they live with you?

Right, now a cyclone has just ripped through the island. Picture again what situation you are in.”

This is how Hugh, ECB Shelter Accountability Advisor, began his workshop in Madrid.  Below is a blog submission from Hugh about his experience.

As part of my role to support the Shelter Cluster in improving accountability to affected populations, I attended the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies or IFRC Shelter Coordination Training in June in Madrid.  The training is for potential shelter cluster coordinators, with a focus on natural disasters, as IFRC convenes the cluster in these contexts. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) leads the Shelter Cluster in complex emergencies.

During the week-long training, I facilitated a session looking specifically at accountability to affected populations and the role cluster coordinators play in ensuring accountability.  This was focused around the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Operational Framework on Accountability to Affected Populations, which is based upon the Good Enough Guide.

The conversations ensuing were in-depth and fruitful.  Participants all considered accountability important prior to attending, but appeared to develop an understanding of how they, as potential cluster coordinators, could support agencies in ensuring accountability to affected populations.

One facilitation technique I used received excellent feedback.  In reviewing the Operational Framework, I stuck a strip of paper over who was responsible for addressing each objective.  In groups, participants had to review the objective and suggested indicators, and fill out who they thought held the responsibility for each objective.  Once each group had reported back to the plenary, they were then able to peel back the paper and uncover the answer.  Whilst fairly simple as a facilitation technique, the act of uncovering the answer seemed to promote great excitement!

Interesting feedback was also collected on the Operational Framework, such as the recommendation that the Framework be expanded to include government and beneficiaries as named stakeholders rather than focusing on the role of the aid community.

The training was attended by 16 participants in total, from IFRC, UNHCR, several Red Cross National Societies, and NGOs.


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Piva taking part in a role play about challenges in developing an accountability framework

Standing Team member Piva Maharani Bell shared with us a summary of what she learned at the Training of Trainers on the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard. The four-day workshop was held by the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) in April in Jakarta, Indonesia to build capacity to facilitate accountability training. The training introduced the concept of accountability, how it relates to humanitarian work, and how to implement the 2010 HAP Standard in the organizational context.

The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership was established in 2003 as a partnership of member agencies that share a commitment to making humanitarian action accountable to disaster survivors. HAP defines accountability as the means by which power is used responsibly. Accountability is about the right to a say and the duty to respond. An accountable organization manages the quality of its products and services and strives to continuously improve these for the benefit of its customers, clients or affected populations.

HAP has 84 member agencies.

A set of requirements for HAP Accountability Standards was developed and published in 2007 and was the first international standard designed to assess, improve and recognize the accountability and quality of humanitarian programs. A review of these standards took place in 2010, resulting in a more user-friendly document in line with the rules for the structure and drafting of documents intended to become International Standards as laid out by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

Organizations that meet the HAP Standard make a commitment to the HAP Standard Principles, which are defined in the HAP Standard document:

Humanity, Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Participation and Informed Consent, Duty of Care, Witness, Offer redress, Transparency and Complementarity.

The HAP Accountability Standard includes six Benchmarks, their related requirements and means of verification.

Benchmark 1Establishing and delivering on commitments

The organization sets out the commitments that it will be accountable for and how they will be delivered.

Benchmark 2 – Staff Competencies

The agency ensures that staffs have competencies that enable them to meet the organization’s commitments.

Benchmark 3 – Sharing Information

The organization ensures that the people it aims to assist and other stakeholders have access to timely, relevant and clear information about the organization and its activities.

Benchmark 4 – Participation

The organization listens to the people it aims to assist, incorporating their views and analysis in program decisions.

Benchmark 5 – Handling Complaints

The organization enables the people it aims to assist and other stakeholders to raise complaints and receive a response through an effective, accessible and safe process.

Benchmark 6 – Learning and continual Improvement

The organization learns from experience to continually improve its performance.

Discussing HAP Accountability Benchmarks

The application of the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard helps organizations to design, implement, assess, improve and recognize accountable programs. Piva is using the Good Enough Guide and the 2010 HAP Accountability Standard to share her knowledge of accountability within Mercy Corps. (For more about the Good Enough Guide, see this blog). She is using the Good Enough Guide and HAP Standard to improve her programming work. Piva emphasizes that garnering buy-in from Mercy Corps’ decision-makers to support the application of the HAP Standard will be crucial.

What is your experience of sharing and applying the Good Enough Guide and HAP Standard in your work?

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The Harvard School of Public Health hosted a webinar Humanitarian Assistance Webcast 7: Empowering beneficiaries: Humanitarian professionals at a crossroads? on March 22 


The movement towards enhancing accountability to and empowerment of beneficiaries in the humanitarian context seems to have put professionals in this field into a bind. Aid workers are mandated to follow two frameworks:

  • The legal framework adopted at the Geneva Conventions of 1949 holds organizations accountable to host states and donor states. However, this framework is inadequate, only referring to high contracting parties and non-state actors to which NGOs offer their services.
  • The human rights based framework calls for accountability to beneficiaries in humanitarian situations. The framework includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Refugee Law, International Humanitarian Law, Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.

Thus humanitarian workers must engage in the complex task of simultaneously responding to the expectations of host state authorities, maintaining accountability to donors, and responding to the needs of beneficiaries.  Unfortunately, the balance of power in this equation has not favored accountability to beneficiaries.

In addition, efforts to “professionalize” humanitarian action have led to yet another set of accountability measures to ensure the implementation of particular professional standards — from assessing humanitarian needs to implementing and evaluating humanitarian programs. These rising expectations of professionalism put further pressures on humanitarian actors.

Looking back

The webinar’s first speaker was Maria Kiani, Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor at the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (HAP). Maria gave a fascinating account of the historical emergence of accountability. Speaker, Brian Kelly, with the International Organization for Migration, added that the concept and promotion of accountability is not new. It can be seen in the Quran, the Torah and the Bible, in criminal and civil law, the concept of stakeholders and shareholders and the tax system. Also, it can be seen in the above-mentioned human-rights based declarations, laws and conventions. The modern movement for accountability to beneficiaries, however, came out of a 1996 joint evaluation of the emergency response to the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This evaluation highlighted:

  • The need to improve accountability by monitoring performance of humanitarian action
  • The number of agencies was increasing but remained unregulated
  • The lack of consideration for local capacities, culture and context, whereby negligence in some cases led to increased suffering and death
  • Evidence of misconduct and abuses by staff
  • Protection, safety and security concerns

Similar findings were also found in evaluation of the response to the 2005 Tsunami.

Following the analysis of what went wrong in the humanitarian response to the Rwandan genocide, a shift occurred from providing charity out of benevolence towards compliance to professional standards at the agency and multi-agency level. There has also been a significant growth in agency self-regulation, and “by 2010, the database of self-regulation initiatives maintained by One World Trust identified over 350 self-regulation initiatives (most of which are at the national level).”

Collective Accountability

All speakers mentioned that the humanitarian field is facing a more complex environment with military actors, companies, for-profit organizations, and small and large NGOs, whereby recipients of aid do not know from whom the aid is coming. Andy Featherstone, an independent consultant, pointed out that due to lack of communication by agencies to the community, there is the risk that misconduct by one actor is blamed collectively on all actors because the people do not know which agency is doing what. Thus, in addition to the growth in agency level accountability initiatives, there has also been a movement toward leadership and coordination among the agencies, towards collective accountability. This can be seen in the growth of inter-agency networks, including HAP, ECB, ALNAP and CDAC (see this blog for more on CDAC).

Agencies, inter-agency networks and initiatives are not the only aspect of the movement toward greater accountability, though. There are external factors which have advanced the movement:

  • Increased media presence during emergencies (Investigative journalism/negative press has brought to light harmful practice)
  • Increased public awareness and scrutiny of performance of NGOs
  • Pressure from watchdogs and other rating agencies
  • Pressure from donors to show improved practices
  • Increase in government regulation of the sector (For example, as a result of misconduct during the response to the tsunami, the Sri Lankan government now regulates humanitarian actors)

These Quality & Accountability standards have been designed to be context relevant and appropriate. Such standards were developed in consultation with host governments, donors, aid workers and communities.

All three speakers mentioned the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s (IASC) Transformative Agenda as a stepping stone towards collective accountability. The agenda was set at the end of 2010 to improve leadership, coordination and accountability to performance and beneficiaries in humanitarian action.

The latest step in the movement towards collective accountability is the Joint Standards Initiative, comprised of the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and People In Aid .  In 2012, this initiative will explore ways in which the three standards can be united into a single coherent framework that will work in the field (for more information on the Joint Standards Initiative, see this blog).

Stay tuned for more on the movement towards collective accountability!

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Have you ever asked yourself how you’re supposed to comply with the many quality & accountability standards, in addition to your own agency’s policies? In 2011, in response to concerns over the ability of aid workers to comply with various standards, the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and People In Aid have launched the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI) to achieve greater coherence of standards in humanitarian response.

The Sphere Project is a voluntary initiative that unites agencies around the common goal of quality and accountability in humanitarian work and is guided by the Sphere Handbook: Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response. The Handbook entails the minimum standards for key areas in humanitarian response. HAP promotes accountability to people affected by humanitarian crises using the 2010 HAP Standard in Accountability and Quality Management. People in Aid improves organisational effectiveness within the humanitarian and development sector by supporting its member organizations with the management of and support for its staff. People in Aid created a management tool called the People in Aid Code of Good Practice.

Soon, the JSI will form a working group, comprised of the three organizations. The working group will

  • research the extent of compliance with their standards in the field by consulting with stakeholders
  • ensure that any changes by the Initiative will best meet the needs of field staff trying to comply with the standards
  • explore ways the three standards can be united into a single coherent framework that will work in the field
  • explore options for creating a single organization related to the standard

The JSI has just launched the Joint Standards Initiative website. So far the site provides access to the three key standards in over 15 languages and resources on a joint deployment by the three organizations and Active Learning Networking for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) to assist agencies in the response in the Horn of Africa.

What has been your experience in the field trying to comply with these various standards?

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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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Here’s an issue Standing Team members will be interested in. Take a look and tell us what you think!

The Humanitarian Practice Network of the Overseas Development Institute dedicated its October 2011 Humanitarian Exchange magazine to accountability in humanitarian action. In their overview article the coeditors, John Mitchell and Paul Knox-Clarke of ALNAP, reflect on the underlying rationales – both moral and practical – we use to justify our commitments to improving accountability, and whether our understanding of accountability has changed in the decade since the ‘accountability revolution’ last featured in Humanitarian Exchange. Other articles discuss collective accountability, Real-Time Evaluations, NGO certification, the role of donors in improving accountability, accountability frameworks and systems, tackling corruption, dealing with sexual abuse by UN and NGO personnel, and case examples from Haiti and South Sudan. Click here for the magazine:  Humanitarian Exchange October 2011, “Humanitarian Accountability”

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The timeline is the skeleton on which we noted many of our learning and tips.

We looked in detail at two areas of concern along the timeline, in two group:

  • the role of management
  • communication and documentation of results

Our tips, ideas, questions were noted on the timeline with post it and will be captured on our presentation on the timeline (above)

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Several in the group were familiar with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief Code of Conduct, and several were not. After pointing out which agencies (several are ECB members) were involved in developing it, and that it is available in the Sphere Manual, the group tried to recall or guess the 10 parts!

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Some useful references on standards:

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The AIM member of the joint evaluation team meets the head of a food distribution organization. He demonstrates that he respected all the OECD/DAC criteria for evaluating humanitarian response. But did he really?

The participants of the workshop had a great discussion in reaction to this. They looked at the interview with the lens of the OECD/DAC evaluation criteria, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Code of Conduct, the Sphere Core Standards, and the ECB Key Elements of Accountability. Here’s how they scored the Cowboy’s agency:

  • OECD: A-/B+ if the cowboy were self-evaluating; F from an accountability perspective
  • Code of Conduct: met elements 1-4, did not meet elements 5-10; final grade = C
  • Sphere: B for standard #3; C for standards 1, 4; F for standards 2, 5, 6
  • Key Elements: Leadership D; all else were Fs!

The cute evaluator got an A+ for addressing the Key Elements!

The group  discussed several points, including:

  • The cowboy’s attitude is not unusual for many organizations or even certain organizations’ leadership.
  • The cowboy had some good points – his organization was very clear on the purpose of their response and stuck to it.
  • The cowboy’s agency may have met many Sphere minimum (technical) standards, but not necessarily the core standards. Both are needed.
  • Different standards are different lenses through which to do an evaluation. Some issues  that are critical in one set of standards may be  completely irrelevant when focusing on another standard. The cowboy understood the OECD evaluation criteria and could provide evidence on how his agency met them; accountability issues were separate (and to him, irrelevant).
  • Evaluators should be as clear as possible what lenses and priorities different stakeholders have, and while the evaluator can advocate for things like accountability and provide recommendations for improvement along those lines, “failing” an agency on certain standards will appear subjective if those standards are not relevant to that agency.

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