Repositioning the Revolution: Redesigning the system from a people-centred perspective

30 May 2024
Tanya Wood

by Tanya Wood

Executive Director, CHS Alliance & co-chair of IASC Taskforce 2 on AAP

Principled humanitarian action requires an aid system that can be held to account by people affected by crisis. While many individual organisations are commendably investing in greater efforts to be accountable to communities, we need more. We need a stronger system-wide approach to tackle the incentive structures that are holding us back from meeting the lofty ambitions of the Grand Bargain’s “Participation Revolution”.

The Inter-Agency Humanitarian Evaluations in Afghanistan and North Ethiopia, soon to be published, will yet again show the centrality of protection and accountability to affected people was not sufficiently realised.

What will it take to break this cycle of reports that demonstrate the aid system’s failure to be truly accountable to the people it serves?

I believe that there is a real opportunity right now for some bold new thinking that will reverse this depressing trend. The IASC AAP Task Force is about to wrap up. The outgoing Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths made accountability to affected people (AAP) a priority and we will soon have a new leader in this important position. The Grand Bargain is considering where and how it drives collaborative change. Donors are doing some critical thinking on how to allocate resources in a tough funding environment…

In this pressurised setting, can we rethink our approach and turn things upside down for a truly people centred reform?

Here are three key questions I think we must tackle:

a. Is AAP a technical fix or a system reform challenge?

As someone told me recently, we can’t fix a systematic challenge with a technical solution.

This is not to say technical support is unimportant. It has driven progress and we can firmly say that we have many excellent tools, processes and guidance to help AAP move forward. One of these is the updated Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), a globally recognised accountability framework, tested with numerous communities and types of organisations to ensure than we can truly stand behind the nine commitments made to people in crisis. The IASC AAP Taskforce has just produced an excellent suite of materials to support humanitarian country teams in their collective accountability efforts.

However, these standards, tools and methods must be used and implemented to ensure AAP is “non-negotiable”, otherwise we won’t create the system change that are needed. This is within our grasp but requires political will.

b. Constrained resources – threat or opportunity for AAP?

The funding crisis is hitting hard. Many organisations – including CHS Alliance – are taking concerted efforts to see where and how cuts can be made. But what will this mean for accountability to affected people? Will it be seen as a ‘nice to have’, something additional that is added onto programmes and risks being pushed aside in tough resourcing decisions, or will it be recognised as essential to prioritising efforts that truly meet people’s needs and hence more cost effective?

c. Moving from individual responsibility to collective responsibility?

Accountability to affected people builds on the efforts of individual organisations. It ensures we are hearing and acting on the views, feedback and perceptions of people at each stage of the response, as well as embedding this approach in the values and culture of our organisations.

However, the true impact on communities will only be felt if we take a collective approach, based on the people, not organisational mandates and avoid the confusion caused by a plethora of organisational initiatives.

Are we ready for a truly collective, system-change approach? This requires reframing and aligning our vision of what an accountable aid system looks like. It means being willing to give up some individual control for more collective impact. For example, are we ready to passport CHS verification efforts to reduce the excess of due diligence processes we know are strangling localisation efforts?

The Path to People-Centred Reform

Dr Jemilah Mahmood, Grand Bargain Ambassador, in a recent discussion with NGOs, suggested we tackle this through new ways of thinking about the “centrality of accountability to affected people”, this time from a systems approach. How would we redesign the humanitarian means of operating from a people centred perspective, looking at what this means for protection, inclusion, gender, cash, localisation etc?

We should at least try, and I believe we can do this by prioritising two things:

  1. Local to global discussions: We need to take a hard look at what is working and what isn’t at country levels. Today, the picture is confusing. NGOs, who work closely with communities and deliver the bulk of assistance globally, are often not leading efforts to work out how people can be at the forefront of these debates. By bringing together the views of affected people and the local leaders that are closest to them, with the donors and intermediaries who can leverage change, we can create a much clearer and stronger aligned agenda to create the conditions for system-wide AAP.
  2. A robust policy agenda: We currently do not have a strong policy agenda to tackle the systemic issues preventing necessary changes.This is why, in partnership with ICVA, we are actively seeking diverse views on how best to build this and create a more accountable and equitable system for people in crisis.

We need to hear your views. Please share your view via our online survey.

Results will inform a series of conversations and workshops to create a new Local to Global Pathway to Accountability A member discussion will take place with the AAP Community of Practice in June. CHS Alliance members can access more information by signing up here.

We intend to present the reflections on our collective way forward to the incoming Emergency Relief Coordinator later this year to ensure accountability to people affected remains at the top of his or her priorities.

As a global network united in demanding greater accountability to people and communities affected by crisis, the CHS Alliance community can play a critical role in redesigning the system from a people centred perspective by thinking differently and being bolder in our ambitions.