Grand Bargain: Participation (R)evolution?

11 July 2017
Ann Vaessen

by Ann Vaessen

Former Senior Communications Officer of the CHS Alliance

One year after the Grand Bargain was endorsed, the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), with the involvement of the CHS Alliance, released its Independent Grand Bargain Report, taking stock of the progress made to date. In this blog, Ann gives an overview of the report’s main findings.

In the run-up to the Economic and Social Council Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS), which took place on 21-23 June, a number of reports and surveys assessing the achievements made with regard to the Grand Bargain have been released.

One year after the landmark agreement was concluded at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul, the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI), with the involvement of the CHS Alliance, released its Independent Grand Bargain Report, taking stock of the progress made to date.

While the report is generally positive, highlighting the strong endorsement of the Grand Bargain from key organisations, GPPI warns that political momentum seems to be fading and that there is growing impatience about its impact in the field.

Taking stock of the progress made per work stream, the report claims that progress has been uneven. The most active work streams of the Grand Bargain are those concerning localisation, cash, and reporting requirements. Less activity has been reported in the work streams concerning management costs, participation revolution, earmarking, and the humanitarian-development nexus.

Limited progress, yet agreement on set of actions

The CHS Alliance was involved as an expert to review progress on the participation revolution work stream of the Grand Bargain, which has reported limited progress according to the GPPI report. Activity on the commitments, as well as links to other work streams, have been rated as particularly low. This is worrying in the sense that if community engagement does not feature in other work streams of the Grand Bargain, then the idea of an evolution will be difficult to achieve, let alone a revolution. At the same time, the fact that the ongoing revision of the Sphere Handbook will use the Core Humanitarian Standard as a foundation for technical chapters will certainly help the language of the participation revolution to find practical applications at field level.

On the positive side, while initial progress in the work stream was impeded by changes in chairs, group members are slowly agreeing on and prioritising actions, still in time to influence the upcoming round of Humanitarian Response Plans. These actions will take place both at the individual and collective levels, and will require efforts not only by operational agencies but also donors. The work stream has also been rated positively on its efforts to link to existing processes, for example by including the use of the Core Humanitarian Standard and its tools in recommended actions.

Successful mobilisation of stakeholders, yet delayed effects in the field

Overall, the report highlights both opportunities and challenges for the Grand Bargain process. On the one hand, the Grand Bargain has successfully mobilised key stakeholders, representing 86-88% of international humanitarian donor funding and 72% of aid organisations’ budgets. On the other hand, limited buy-in from non-OECD countries and NGOs limits its potential, and the GPPI report hints at concerns that the departure of Kristalina Georgieva from her role as Co-chair of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing has negatively impacted the momentum of the Grand Bargain.

While the Grand Bargain has a light bureaucratic footprint and the work streams have adopted a flexible approach to their work, there are concerns about the lack of oversight and coherence across work streams. Maybe most importantly, there is growing impatience about the Grand Bargain’s impact on field operations. Due to an initial focus on activities at the global level and piecemeal field-implementation of activities related to individual commitments, the benefits of the Grand Bargain are thus far little recognised by actors on the ground.

The way forward: from global to local

What should Grand Bargain signatories do to address these challenges? The report recommends to keep the light structure while re-engaging signatories at the political level and expanding the Grand Bargain’s reach among non-signatories. It also recommends to increase the coherence between the various work streams, and suggests to apply the Grand Bargain in its entirety to specific emergency operations.

Global processes only last that long when they remain a discussion at the global level. To succeed, the substance of the Grand Bargain needs to move to the field and demonstrate its value in concrete terms. The participation revolution in particular needs to take place where people affected by crisis are located.