Thematic area 2: Standards make a difference

Standards support appropriate, effective and timely aid

Appropriate and effective humanitarian response relies on a mix of improvisation and established protocols, insight and data. In that respect, standards such as the Core Humanitarian Standard are not just a collection of procedures disconnected from reality: they represent the distilled wisdom of people with expertise in their profession. The CHS is no exception: its nine commitments have been selected because they contribute to the effectiveness of humanitarian programmes. The CHS also aims to put affected people at the centre, an approach that echoes the way Keystone’s Ground Truth programme works. Keystone has suggested that humanitarians could learn a thing or two from the corporate sector, considering its most successful companies put their customers first. The report looks at how such approaches could be used in the humanitarian sector, as a way to help aid organisations more routinely integrate the voice of communities in the planning, monitoring and evaluation of their programmes.

External verification of compliance with a standard is an approach used in various sectors to drive quality. Verification of compliance increases the trust of external stakeholders, while driving the adoption of best practice internally. In some cases, decisions to adopt a standard are made on a voluntary basis. In other cases, such as with the 3MDG Fund, committing to taking an accountability based approach was a pre-requisite to working within the Fund in Myanmar. In the face of vastly different contexts and cultures, finding the right way to assess and respond to changing needs is critical to effectiveness. Likewise, approaches to adopting and implementing standards need to be context appropriate and cost-effective, rather than top-down bureaucratic processes.

Read all about it!

Chapter 4: Would you recommend this aid programme to a friend?
Nick van Praag explores how customer satisfaction techniques more commonly associated with the commercial world can improve humanitarian performance. Download this chapter.

Chapter 7: Development funds and accountability mainstreaming
Simon Richards suggests that a development health programme in Myanmar might tell us something about how to integrate accountability-based approaches into programming. Download this chapter.

Chapter 8: Bringing aid to account: the CHS and third-party verification
The Core Humanitarian Standard and third-party verification are vital accountability tools to help us deliver the aid that communities affected by crises need and want, writes Philip Tamminga. Download this chapter.

Key recommendations

  1. Providing field managers with a tested and accepted way of gauging, tracking and acting on feedback from those they are assisting. An industry standard bringing together essential features of a range of tools would be the stronger for placing less emphasis on the reporting of often non-essential measures of output and outcome. (chapter 4)
  2. Encouraging affected people to provide more candid feedback, by acting on what they say and letting them know, through systematic two-way communication, what has been done with their feedback. (chapter 4)
  3. Getting donors to keep pushing things forward. Donors should also consider removing reporting requirements that add little value so that agency staff can put their time to better use, not least to engage with affected people. At present, aid agencies pay a low price for failing to deliver on the accountability agenda. That is now beginning to change but it is time for donors to crank up the pace. (chapter 4)
  4. Encouraging aid agency management to develop internal cultures that prompt staff to become keen listeners to affected people, and equally keen learners. This means top managers must go beyond the rhetoric of accountability and align staff career opportunities with proven commitment to engage with affected people. (chapter 4)
  5. Donors and pooled fund mechanisms should promote consistently improved quality upfront by supporting (accountability driven) standards rather than only investing in ex-post evaluations. (chapter 7)
  6. Pooled fund mechanisms should support the incentivisation of quality through built-in allocated programme funding and simultaneous support for organisations to develop their capacity, rather than exclusively demanding programme results. (chapter 7)
  7. Donors are encouraged to support a variety of ongoing learning methodologies to reinforce the institutionalisation and application of accountability best practice within pooled funding mechanisms. (chapter 7)
  8. Use the CHS as a framework to guide capacity-strengthening strategies: Its nine commitments make it a useful framework to ensure that capacity-strengthening activities are orientated around ensuring organisations have the capacities to meet these aims. (chapter 8)
  9. Use the CHS as a common reporting framework for humanitarian aid effectiveness: the OECD/DAC compatible CHS offers an excellent foundation to track our collective progress towards meeting the WHS goals. Developing a common reporting framework around the CHS, and encouraging all stakeholders (including governments, donors, UN agencies, NGOs, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement and others) to report on their contribution to the CHS would allow us to track our collective progress against the aims of improving aid effectiveness and accountability. (chapter 8)
  10. Promote widespread third party verification of the CHS by all actors: Not enough actors submit to a similar degree of external scrutiny to demonstrate how they contribute to aid effectiveness. This is particularly the case of institutional and government donors and UN agencies. The CHS can be used to correct this imbalance. Encouraging all actors to support and engage with third party verification would provide evidence on how they contribute to putting communities affected by crises at the heart of their humanitarian actions, reinforce greater transparency, mutual accountability and more equitable relations amongst stakeholders, and not least give affected communities a means by which to hold all organisations to account. (chapter 8)

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