Transforming Surge Capacity project: what have we learnt?

2 January 2018

In 2015 the Start Network launched a three-year Transforming Surge Capacity (TSC) project financed by the UK government as part of the Department for International Development’s (DFID) Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) to make surge capacity more effective and efficient across the whole humanitarian sector by promoting collaboration and coordination. The project’s final learning report was launched at the DEPP Humanitarian Resilience Week in November 2017, which brought together key players of surge response to discuss the findings and reflect on the future of humanitarian surge. An account of the day can be read on Start Network’s website.

Traditionally, surge capacity efforts have been focused on individual agency support rather than collective working, have largely overlooked local staff and ignored the role of other actors. The private sector and academic organisations can play a vital role in supporting civil society surge. Since 2015 crises have continued, with many conflict-affected countries. Facing these challenges, there has been a new momentum to improve surge practices in line with the commitments made within the framework of the Grand Bargain.

With a geographic focus on Asia, the participating organisations, ActionAid (project lead), Action Against Hunger, CAFOD, CARE, Christian Aid, International Medical Corps, Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Plan International, Save the Children and Tearfund, have explored how to improve surge response building on their field of expertise. In the report, the learnings and recommendations are grouped as follows:

Key learnings and results (for the full list, please consult the report):

  • The development of multi-agency surge rosters has enabled humanitarian agencies to draw on a pool of surge staff from different organisations to respond to emergencies across the Asia region and beyond;
  • Localised approaches to surge are vital; thinking and action is needed in order to promote this; major international surge actors, such as the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and INGOs, have started to review their approaches;
  • Agencies have come together to develop surge-related training packages, including the development of innovative mindfulness and wellbeing modules; pilot private sector partnerships for disaster preparedness; undertake research to identify and promote the role of women in surge; and share human resources and good practices;
  • A surge capacity training course, with eight separate modules, has been developed and tested during the project; the course includes a module on mindfulness and wellbeing, as well as a module on behavioural competencies – an important, yet frequently absent element of surge-focused training;
  • At least three project agencies have started to implement proactive women-led response approaches. Research undertaken during the project highlighted some worrying barriers to promoting the role of women in surge: personal safety and security, lack of confidence amongst women to be involved in surge activities:
  • A series of guidelines have been developed in relation to staff care, ethical recruitment and HR coordination; an HR platform has been created to exchange learning in this area; in addition, two HR conferences have been held to bring together HR professionals in order to share learning and make recommendations on surge-related HR gaps;
  • Learning from the project has shown that localised and collaborative surge are not only realistic but that they are effective. In order to further the efforts started through this unique project, a willingness of actors across the humanitarian sector is required to encourage a change of approach to surge, both in terms of mind-set and in the implementation of practical activities.