Haiti’s Champions of the CHS: Keeping People at the Centre With Communication, Participation and Feedback

Geneviève Cyvoct

by Geneviève Cyvoct

Genevieve is the Senior Capacity Development Officer at the CHS Alliance

One of the most pressing questions from participants at a recent training workshop on the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) in Haiti was, how do we to explain the CHS to the communities we work with? Communities and people affected by crisis are at the centre of the CHS and should always be central to any decisions we make on humanitarian or development action.

One of the most pressing questions from participants at a recent training workshop on the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) in Haiti was, how do we explain the CHS to the communities we work with?

Communities and people affected by crisis are at the centre of the CHS, quite literally if you look at the CHS Commitment diagram, and should always be central to any decisions we make on humanitarian or development action. Sometimes however, it’s easy to forget our most important audience as we focus on ensuring colleagues, managers, donors, and partners are well-versed in the CHS.

Keeping affected populations at the centre of what we do can be supported by CHS Commitment 4: “Communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them”. This means maintaining regular communications with communities by informing them of their rights, explaining how our organisation works, and why we want them to be involved in our programmes.

Before we can explain the CHS to communities, it’s important to determine what our organisational commitments are and why we want the people we seek to assist to know and understand them. What does quality and accountability mean to us as individuals and organisations?

The first two days of the training of trainers (ToT) workshop in Haiti enabled participants to understand quality and accountability by giving an overview of humanitarian principles and the Nine Commitments of the CHS. The 14 participants reflected during the workshop’s case studies on the key actions and organisational responsibilities of the CHS. Most participants are active members of an Accountability Learning Working Group (ALWG) set up in Haiti during the January 2010 earthquake response to ensure cross-learning among humanitarian stakeholders on implementing accountability to affected populations.

Participants were also concerned with how to transition effectively as possible to the CHS within their organisations. Their questions reflect the challenging context of organisations under pressure to achieve a positive impact with restricted resources such as reduced funding, programmes and staff. However, applying Commitment 9 of the CHS which addresses managing resources effectively, efficiently and ethically, can help organisations achieve an effective.

On the fourth day of the workshop, participants delivered their own training sessions on the CHS. Three out of five groups focused on feedback and complaints mechanisms. In just 45 minutes, each group successfully demonstrated how they would explain to the communities they serve quality and accountability in the context of the CHS, why it is important for organisations to gather the feedback and complaints from communities, and how this can be done.

Recommendations on communicating with communities on the CHS:

1. Keep communication simple

Have communications in local languages. Take the time to have a semi-structured discussion preferably in focus groups, where the agency shares information orally with community members in the local language, proactively asks for feedback, and leaves time for open discussion.

2. Keep it practical

Move away from jargon, avoid complex explanations, and make the purpose of any discussion or communication clear.

3. Illustrate discussions with the communities’ own examples

Take the time to find out appropriate examples from local partners that might apply in the community. If a previous programme is known to have been delayed or had negative effects, be honest about this and explain that the organisation is aiming to ensure response is more appropriate and relevant in the future. Give examples of how different organisations and other actors including government or civil society organisations might be working together in the community. If community feedback and discussion was successfully taken on board to improve a programme, then let the community know.

4. Ensure lots of space for dialogue

Prioritise face-to-face contact as much as possible. Run community sessions on the content of the CHS; explain what quality and accountability is and why it’s important for the organisation to make itself accountable to these values.

The group presentations illustrated the participants’ commitment to using the quality and accountability approaches of the CHS to achieve long-term positive impact with humanitarian responses. The workshop gave the encouraging insight that the CHS has champions in Haiti, ready to replicate training on the CHS within their organisations and the communities they serve.