Findings from the Review of the Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework

29 September 2016
Uma Narayanan

by Uma Narayanan

Kuala Lumpur based consultant focusing on organisational effectiveness

Uma Narayanan shares findings of our review of the Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework for the Start Network Talent Development project. The review was important because it was all about listening to people who are most impacted by any initiative that involves competencies development – staff and communities.

I joined the CHS Alliance in February to support the team’s important work reviewing the Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework for the Start Network Talent Development project. I would like to share some of the findings of the review as we are nearing the end of the project, which was fuelled by a tight schedule, field visits, consultations, interviews, and meetings. I personally believe the review was important because it was all about listening to people who are most impacted by any initiative that involves competencies development – staff and the communities we work with and assist.

I am pleased to share my report on the review of the competencies framework that includes recommendations for the framework. Overall, the review process not only entailed extensive consultation with partners of the Start Network Talent Development project but extended way beyond to a broader series of consultations with aid organisations, networks and academia across agencies and geographical regions including Europe, Africa, Australia and Asia.

Some had indicated interest in the ways the competencies in the framework were applied in practice. We have developed a number of case studies, which can be accessed here, depicting how the competencies framework translates in practice and the arising opportunities, challenges and lessons learned.


One challenge in conducting the review was a lack of baseline indicators to compare progress in implementation since the competencies framework was launched in 2011. We addressed this gap by organising a workshop in London in July attended by some of the key players instrumental in the development of the original framework. The added value of perspectives gained from the workshop enabled us to obtain a better sense of what the framework was and what it is now, and also better understand the thinking that went into the framework and the rationale behind the competency domains.


Continued relevance of the framework

The overall findings of the review suggest that the competencies framework is highly relevant for both the humanitarian sector as well as the development sector. Stakeholders who are familiar with and are currently using the competencies framework, are of view that the framework is fine as it is and there is no need for major changes. In other words the original target audience of the framework, namely those involved in the Start Network Talent Development project, find the framework in varying forms useful and relevant. Based on the review and anecdotal evidence, we may safely conclude the competencies framework is making a difference to the people and organisations that are using it.

Another heartening finding that has surfaced is that adoption of the competencies framework has extended well beyond the targeted community of the Start Network Talent Development project. Since a few organisations and academia have only recently started using the competencies framework, it is perhaps too premature for any major revision of the framework.

Feedback from affected populations

In order to ensure the perspectives of affected populations were included in the review of the competencies framework, eight community consultations were undertaken in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The feedback remains more or less the same as in other accountability initiatives I have worked on: that humanitarians should listen to communities more, empathise with local conditions, avoid raising community expectations, and better coordinate initiatives amongst humanitarian actors. These are the areas that we will have to continue to strive to do better on to keep affected communities at the heart of what we do.

Need for a rethink of format and support

For stakeholders who are unfamiliar with the framework or have not been able to adopt it due to various limitations, they find the framework is not user-friendly in its presentation. This difficulty was compounded by what stakeholders perceived as an absence of systematic and sustained dissemination, communication, and training support to assist in implementing the framework. Small to medium-sized organisations with resource constraints have particularly expressed the hope for more support in implementing the competencies framework.

There is a huge appetite for continued use of the framework with minimal changes in content and domain descriptions, as well as refinement of presentation and clearer alignment with broad job levels. Minor editorial and formatting changes were also suggested. The CHS Alliance is in the process of incorporating these refinements while retaining the essential content of the competencies framework.

Just like many other tools, the competencies framework has its strengths and gaps that may suit the needs of different target audiences. Suffice it to say it is a tool designed to support the attempt to professionalise the sector. It is up to users to adapt, adopt and apply the framework based on their needs.

Next steps

Moving forward, the CHS Alliance and Talent Development Project are also planning to pilot test the proposed revisions to the competencies framework by identifying a few organisations and academia who would be willing to do the pilot testing. The main reason for this is to determine a clear baseline and measure the change in a more systematic and structured manner.

The focus in the coming months will be to sensitise users on ways of implementing the competencies framework, and address the gaps among stakeholders that emerged during the consultation process of the project.

In any consultation such as this I believe it is critical to keep an open mind and not adopt changes for the sake of changing. As the saying goes, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. Rather, future efforts could focus on responding to stakeholder expectations for stronger guidance and support that will assist them with the effective implementation of the competencies framework in their respective organisations.

I have learned much during the review project from the stakeholder consultation process and the opportunity to work with so many committed and sincere people who are dedicated to promoting professionalism in the humanitarian sector. On behalf of CHS Alliance, I would like to sincerely thank all those involved for their contributions and the assistance they have so willingly given us.