Overcoming HR challenges in surge response

19 July 2018

Last year, together with Justine the CHS Alliance produced a set of HR guidelines for the Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity Project. We caught up with her over a coffee to chat about the HR component of the Project and the development of these tools. Justine has worked in the humanitarian and development sector for over 18 years, including 11 years with Oxfam GB and six years with RedR UK. She has a HR specialist background and is now an independent consultant for the sector.

Tell us about the HR good practice component of the Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity Project – what were you aiming to achieve? 

The Start Network’s Transforming Surge Capacity Project was a pilot project designed to develop de-centralised approaches to capacity-building and to improve the quality and speed of humanitarian response in countries at risk of natural disaster or conflict-related humanitarian emergencies, by promoting collaboration and coordination. It was about getting everyone to work together to improve and find new ways to enhance the role of local agencies and external stakeholders, operating at national levels in Pakistan and the Philippines; regional level across Asia and international level in the UK. As part of the project, shared rosters were set up in each location and training was provided for those who joined the rosters. There was also a research element to facilitate learning and best practice, drawing on experiences of agencies and their staff participating in the project. The initiative also identified what improvements were needed and where the gaps were in HR practice, working towards improving the level of co-ordination between HR teams in different organisations.

The HR component of the project set up a working group, which included representatives from various agencies, based in different countries across Asia and at HQ level; it hosted two HR conferences that enabled HR practitioners to share best practice and identify current gaps in HR practice. This led to the development of new guidelines and tools and the establishment of an online HR portal for practitioners to further engage and work together.

What makes the guidelines a little different to some of the HR resources online? 

The way the project worked was unique, as it collaboratively identified gaps, considered the work of international NGOs and also national organisations involved in disaster responses; looked at resources during and beyond the employee life cycle, by addressing emerging current and future issues as our responsibilities for duty of care and HR’s role in localisation.

For example, a research commissioned by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund and Islamic Relief Worldwide showed that national NGOs were concerned about unethical recruitment practices often within established partnerships (no references requested, notice periods not being honoured, etc.). To address this concern, recommendations were made, for instance, to brief all staff being deployed to a surge response on ethical recruitment practices, support local NGOs in building HR capacity, and harmonise salaries and benefits

These resources were put together with the aim to ensure that they would be easy to use and provide a starting point for organisation. The topics we covered are also very relevant to the issues organisations are facing at the moment. They include suggestions for safer recruitment highlighting the importance of risk mitigation and checks. In addition, recommendations are made on how larger and well-resourced organisations could support HR capacity in national organisations.

How does this fit into the Core Humanitarian Standard? 

For example, commitment 8 of the Core Humanitarian Standard lists under organisational responsibilities that organisations should have the management and staff capacity and capability to deliver programmes (8.4) and have policies in place for the security and the wellbeing of staff (8.9). The recommendations and guidelines that we produced cover monitoring and evaluating the role and impact of HR in surge responses in order to improve performance. HR data is useful to keep track of the time of deployments, cost of deployments and the time and cost of HR staff needed to support. This regular reporting could demonstrate the return on investment of direct HR support during a surge response. Furthermore, we have mapped the most important resources that are available to support staff wellbeing, and shared information on 29 different organisations and their resources, tools, services and initiatives.