Background to the project

Competent and well-managed staff are at the heart of an accountable and effective organisation and need to be equipped with the right skills and behaviours. The key issue is how can organisations support individuals to make this happen. Over the last 14 months and as part of the Start Network/DFID-funded Talent Development Project (TDP), the CHS Alliance completed a review of the Framework taking feedback from a wide range of stakeholders on the relevance and practical use of the CHCF in humanitarian organisations, and asking for recommendations for its revision.

The review affirmed that that the CHCF is fit for purpose, adds value and is highly relevant for staff development and humanitarian efforts in general. Stakeholders also acknowledged that the CHCF as a generic competency framework in the humanitarian sector serves as a useful reference point. The review, however, also indicated that there was only low to moderate level awareness and hence corresponding lack of ‘know how’ of the CHCF and it was unclear how it links to career paths, how changes in behaviours can be identified and measured, and HR practitioners not being familiar enough with competency frameworks to guide project managers and field staff on how to adopt them.

Based on these findings, the Collaboration Centre for Recognition of Humanitarian Skills, Experience and Learning together with the CHS Alliance and with continued support from TDP launched a collaborative joint funded project. The project aimed to assist communities at risk or affected by crisis to receive the assistance they require from competent and well-managed staff and volunteers through the use of the CHCF and competency-based approaches to HR. Activities were primarily aimed at NGOs in Kenya, Jordan, Bangladesh, DRC and the Philippines aiming to provide the humanitarian sector with practical tools and a framework that would in turn lead to the delivery of high quality and accountable humanitarian interventions for the communities at risk or affected by crisis.

The agreed project outputs were as follows:

  • Human Resources professionals and managers have the skills and tools to apply CHCF
  • Learning institutes to be provided with tools and knowledge to be able to adopt the CHCF
  • The CHCF is promoted globally.
  • Competency-based approaches to HR and career development are promoted across the sector.
  • Links between the CHCF and existing humanitarian standards and learning pathways are made

What did we find?

  • Competency-based recruitment and selection tools were the most popular amongst users - the easiest and most practical of the tools to first adopt were the competency-based job descriptions and competency-based interview sheet and question bank.
  • Generally there are a lack of skills in competency-based HR management - many HR staff in attendance on the training days were aware of the theory behind competency-based HR approaches but they lacked the knowledge, understanding and confidence to put them into practice. Following the training days, staff reported increased confidence to introduce the CHCF and competency-based tools to their organisations.
  • Adopting competency-based HR practices and using the CHCF allowed organisations to demonstrate that they are working towards a recognised standard – this included fair and transparent systems for staff, measurable results from HR to senior management and the ability to demonstrate commitment to the Core Humanitarian Standard and in particular commitment 8. It also allows for evidence that staff are selected, developed and managed on the competencies that donors seek when distributing funding.
  • Uptake of the CHCF was mostly of interest to smaller NGOs who could relatively easily adopt the CHCF. It appeared to be more difficult for larger INGOs to adopt the CHCF as they already have an internal competency framework.  However, the tools that were introduced were relevant as the majority of those INGO staff attending training were not using competency-based approaches. This suggests that head office HR staff may be familiar with competency frameworks, but this is not necessarily true for country office HR staff.
  • Some INGOs found the CHCF of use in surge recruitment practices using it as a basis for the assessment and selection of staff onto surge rosters and finding a humanitarian focussed framework to be of more relevance.

During visits to Bangladesh, Philippines, Jordan and Kenya we discovered that most staff were new to competency-based approaches and the CHCF. The greatest need identified was for competency-based recruitment methods due to difficulties during recent recruitment drives. There was an interest in creating competency-based job descriptions.  Those we interacted with were very keen to learn, and keen for their senior management teams to adopt these approaches.

Pre-training webinars were introduced before the face to face training was held and to ensure attendees were engaged in the project and understood the framework before introducing them to competency base approaches. The success of the webinars varied and very much depended on the context in each country.

The importance of having a ‘champion’ in country also began to emerge throughout the project – either from within an organisation or a consultant in-country who could further support implementation.

What worked well?

  • Collaboration - the project was highly collaborative in nature and the partnership between CHS Alliance, the Academy, PHAP and Talent Development Project (TDP) (START Network) worked well meaning more staff time could be spent focussing on activities and more expertise could be sought to produce the guidance materials. It also meant more materials could be translated, more trainings conducted and more networks utilised.  This approach also has its challenges and the activities funded by each donor had to be very clearly defined from the start. The project also collaborated in-country by working with the DEPP national learning events, TDP promotional events and utilising networks to run concurrent training and gain contact with local NGOs. Some of the promotional materials were produced later in the project and allowed for feedback from participants to be included into the final documents.
  • Value for money - The project provided value for money. By using webinars and holding training events, that were hosted by organisations who were already interested in the promotion of the CHCF, ensured training was done at minimal cost. 3 of the 4 main training days were run on the day after large national sector events to minimise travel and accommodation costs for participants and allow the project staff to further promote the CHCF at those national events. All materials produced as part of this project went through a tender process.

What were the key challenges?

  • Senior Management - A common reason given for difficulty in adopting the tools was attributed to ‘lack of interest from senior managers’.. With this in mind, the project could have spent more time at the start drawing together data and relevant case studies to help persuade and convince managers of the positive aspects and use of the CHCF and competency-based approaches.
  • Timeframes - the project presumed organisations would sync to its timetable of roll out and adoption.. Additionally providing technical advice and suggesting changes in HR practices, requires trust and rapport building with the respective I/NGOs and is not easily achieved within the time frame of this project especially when there has just been one visit to the country.

What is the overall impact across the sector?

The CHCF project has been a successful project. It has provided substantial results, value for money, evidence of collaborative advantage as a whole and throughout its activities and can offer some valuable insights into current thinking and practices of HR staff in the sector.

Early in the project it became clear that there is a need in the sector, from a HR perspective, for measureable, accountable and logical people management systems. Further interactions with the HR staff in different countries highlighted that they considered using competency-based approaches a possible solution to this issue after learning more about how the approach works in practice and can fit with different organisations[1].

The rate of uptake of tools by participants post training and the dissemination from them to other staff in their organisation suggests the CHCF will enable those organisations to select and manage their staff in line with the skills and behaviours set out in the CHCF and in a more measurable and accountable manner, promoting more effective and coherent humanitarian responses.

Additionally, anecdotally the CHCF was often suggested as offering a cross agency solution to increase the effectiveness of humanitarian staff across the sector. This would come from having a common language and set of agreed effective behaviours to aspire to.


[1] This conclusion has been reached through consistent comments given by HR staff on their post training feedback questionnaires. Available to view in annex 7.