Thematic area 4: Collective accountability

Collective accountability requires inclusiveness, a common language and transparent decision making.

Humanitarian response is today better organised and coordinated than 10 years ago. It does however still rely on a system in which aid organisations are responsible for their performance on an individual rather than a collective basis. It also struggles to acknowledge the political nature of decisions made, for example in terms of where resources are allocated. In order to ensure a more effective and coherent response, aid actors need to improve the transparency of their decision-making processes, and apply to collective mechanisms the accountability principles many have adopted internally. Getting there will imply the adoption of a common language, and tools that allow the translation of commitments in principle into concrete actions. That includes making progress collectively at routinely collecting and accounting for the voice of communities.

Read all about it!

Chapter 3: Gandalfs and geeks: strengthening the accountability of humanitarian decision-making
What do we know about how humanitarian decisions are made, and how can we use it to get to more accountable decision-making, asks Lars Peter Nissen. Download this chapter.

Chapter 10: Collective accountability: are we really in this together?
The accountability of clusters, HCTs and other groups of organisations coordinating their efforts is due a fundamental rethink, says Matthew Serventy. Download this chapter.

Chapter 12: Informed decision-making: including the voice of affected communities in the process
Technology is driving unprecedented opportunities to directly hear what people affected by crises need and to design or adapt programmes based on what matters to them most, as Jessica Alexander explains. Download this chapter.


Key recommendations 

  1. The starting-point in changing decision-making culture is not to build the evidence base for decisions, but to recognise the political nature of decisions. Humanitarians at times work in murky environments where information is scarce, the situation is rapidly changing and there is great pressure to make decisions. In these situations, decision-making will tend to be heavily experience-based. When humanitarian action takes place in more stable situations, where more information is available and there is time to consider different options, evidence will play a stronger role. No matter which approach is used, the key to strengthening the accountability of decision-making is openness around the way in which decisions are made. As humanitarians we need to admit not only that we make decisions, we also need to be open about how we make them. (chapter 3)
  2. Senior leadership is critical – collective accountability needs to start at the top (chapter 10):
    1. The IASC AAP/PSEA task team should develop standards on collective accountability, based on existing approaches such as the CHS.
    2. The Emergency Directors Group (EDG) needs to enforce these standards and follow up on recommendations from EDG missions and Operational Peer Reviews.
    3. One Emergency Director should become a global leader for AAP.
    4. Donors need to demand planning based on community engagement.
    5. OCHA HLSU should develop training and guidance to allow HCs to lead the HCT into being a collectively accountable body.
    6. Global clusters need to develop and provide guidance on collective accountability.
  3. A shift in thinking is required – the response must establish a collective accountability mindset (chapter 10):
    1. The inter-cluster forum should develop, adopt and monitor country-specific minimum collective accountability and quality standards.
    2. The HCT should establish a third-party accountability platform, headed by an accountability advisor, and commit to following its guidance.
    3. All clusters, in cooperation with IMOs, should adopt indicators that monitor how affected communities perceive the relevance, timeliness and effectiveness of their actions, and use them to adapt their action.
    4. Donors, organisations and all collective forums need to reconsider their approach to coordination and cooperation – they must put aside their preconceptions and technical biases, and make the voice of the population their guiding principle.
  4. Leverage readily available and commonly used technology: The use of smartphones, tablets, mobile apps and social media is ubiquitous in the professional and personal lives of humanitarians. Everyday, easy-to-use, ready-made tools that can save time and money (while making data analysis faster and more powerful) already exist or can be easily adapted. (chapter 12)
  5. Agree on a set of generic indicators for perception data from affected communities: In order for efforts to include the opinions of affected communities, what questions they are asked, and how they are formulated needs careful consideration. A core set of questions that apply across emergencies (to measure common features such as timeliness, relevance and effectiveness) could be combined with more specific questions for each response. The Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) Guidance Notes and Indicators offer a starting point for such an exercise. (chapter 12)
  6. Aggregate perception data from affected communities at the collective level: ‘Satisfaction’ type questions should be promoted in policy instruments, standards and donor requirements. This data should: 1) be collected at regular intervals throughout the Humanitarian Programme Cycle; 2) be disaggregated, for example by age and gender; 3) be fed back to communities for clarification; and 4) result in visible change for those who have been consulted. The analysis of this data should feature on the agenda of coordination mechanisms (e.g. cluster meetings, HCTs, etc.) and feed into decision-making processes. (chapter 12).

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