Quality and Accountability
Quality and Accountability Hub

An informal consultative meeting hosted by Community World Service Asia was held online amongst the Sphere Country Focal Points in Asia on 3rd September 2021. It focused on the contextualized challenges in different countries, including the new challenges amid the pandemic, and how to overcome them.

Sphere, established in 1997, is well known for its contribution and commitment towards strengthening the quality of humanitarian assistance to affected communities across the globe. Its flagship publication, the Sphere Handbook, outlines the fundamental tenets of quality and accountability in humanitarian assistance. It is based on the core philosophy that organisations and individuals that support and assist different, vulnerable communities around the world also bear the responsibility of ensuring that the assistance they provide is of acceptable quality and that appointed resources reach affected communities in the most accountable manner.

Role of the Sphere Focal Points

The implementation of Sphere standards is promoted at country-level by experienced staff representing humanitarian and development organisations, networks, working groups as well as independent practitioners, known as Sphere Country Focal Points. The role of these focal points is to disseminate knowledge and promote the application of Sphere principles and standards around the world and more specifically in the regions that they work in. A Virtual Meet-up was held amongst the Sphere Country Focal Points in Asia on 3rd September, 2021. This informal consultative meeting had a few set discussion points and was hosted by Community World Service Asia which is the regional partner to Sphere in Asia as well as Sphere Country Focal Point in Pakistan. Participants were free to actively engage in discussion, share their experiences or just listen and learn.

Consent on most effective practices

Through this meeting, Focal Points were given an opportunity to promote open communication and learning in addition to sharing the work that focal point organisations or practitioners are doing on Sphere standards in their respective countries. The insightful discussion mainly focused on the contextualized challenges in different countries, including the new challenges amid the pandemic, and how to overcome them. All participants agreed that practices which accommodate multiple stakeholders and take into account the country’s specific contexts are the most effective. A few of the key discussions and action points deliberated in the meeting are shared here:

  • Sphere focal points will develop a context and different stakeholder driven best practices/lessons learned document on quality and accountability to be shared within the region
  • Language barriers for global and regional level events/virtual events need to be addressed
  • Innovative and effective approaches for conducting impactful online/virtual trainings must be identified
  • Experience sharing on approaches being used by Focal Points to promote Q&A

Second Meet up on November 24

Interested participants are creating a practical implementation plan based around the discussion points. This will help solidify the work and impact of quality and accountability advocacy including Sphere standards and Core Humanitarian Standard for local governments and civil society in focal point countries. The second Virtual Meet up of Sphere Country Focal Points is scheduled to be held on 24th November 2021. It is hoped that these meetups will be conducted regularly to improve quality and accountability frameworks for humanitarian agencies within the region.

“The smiles we bring to the faces of the individuals we work for inspires me to keep going and serve as many people as possible.”

Muhammad Waseem has been actively working as a humanitarian practitioner in Pakistan’s development sector since the past seven years. As Manager Quality Assurance in Association for Gender Awareness & Human Empowerment (AGAHE), I am responsible to develop, review and implement a robust Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning framework and tools. The objective is to facilitate measurement of progress and enhance compliance of programmes and projects with AGAHE standards, policy framework and best practices. AGAHE is working on various thematic areas, including Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH), Food Security & Livelihoods, Health & Nutrition, Disaster Risk Reduction & Resilience, and Governance.”

“Managing teams was the most challenging responsibility after being promoted to Manager Quality Assurance. Since the promotion took place during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the projects became extremely time-sensitive, and workload was at an all-time high. I always believed that working in a group was more efficient than working alone. But it did not take me long to realise that it’s only easier when done right. Team chemistry, capabilities, and challenges faced are the most essential factors to consider while dealing with teams in times of crisis. After hearing about the training workshop on ‘Leading in Complexity and Uncertainty’ in April from a friend, I immediately applied,” shared Waseem.

Seventeen participants representing 14 national and international non-governmental organisations took part in the training. Waseem, along with other humanitarian workers, explored various leadership styles and skills during the training and analysed their own leadership styles based on self-assessments. Participants learned new methodologies and tool to improve their leadership skills and devised strategies for peer assistance exercises and technical mentorship. “The training material was prepared with the participants’ consent. This was a motivating aspect since it allowed us, as participants, to suggest essential subjects for inclusion in the training agenda, making the training more relevant and effective in terms of learning. Arif Jabbar, the lead facilitator, adopted a participatory approach throughout the five-day workshop which enabled an effective sharing and learning process among all us participants.”

Waseem was new to the MBTI and Emotional Intelligence models of self-awareness that were introduced in the training. “It’s hardly news that people leave organisations because of poor management. Tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be extremely helpful here. The MBTI and Emotional Intelligence workshop was an excellent method for us to develop our own self-awareness, and it also served as a strong foundation for learning what would potentially frustrates or upsets others. This session’s group activity targeted at self-assessment in times of complexity and uncertainty, allowing us to discover important qualities to work more successfully with others and manage our team in a more emotionally intelligent manner.”

Waseem initiated regular meetings with his team members after taking the training. “The ‘Leader as a Coach’ session improved my communication skills and helped me understand my team’s dynamics more. I started scheduling twice-monthly meetings with my team members to give them an opportunity to share their challenges and work together to find solutions. Keeping the mechanism of accountability in place without compromising teams’ trust and confidence was a big challenge. Meetings with teams that worked remotely helped to bridge the communication gap and accelerate project delivery. This initiative has increased our team’s productivity and motivation to work in unprecedented times.”

Constant communication with his teams has been a game changer for Waseem. “My staff has more faith in me and the work we are doing now. Overcoming my negative leadership qualities and improving team communication has increased my team’s trust in me, and we are now working more collectively than ever before.”

When: 24-26 August 2021
Where: Murree Punjab
Language: Urdu
Interested Applicants: Click here to register
Last Date to Apply: 5th August 2021

Rationale:

Since the 1950s the development agenda has been characterized by projects and programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of beneficiary communities, be it in physical or qualitative terms. Despite significant inputs of human and financial resources, many fell short of expectations. Projects failed to meet the priority needs of communities; stated outputs were not achieved or, if achieved, not sustained; target groups did not benefit in the manner intended; project costs escalated and implementation dates slipped, and adverse outcomes were not anticipated.

These failures were attributed in part to poor project management, such as inadequate opportunities for potential beneficiaries to participate in project identification, weak financial management, inadequate monitoring during implementation, poor linkages between project activities and project purpose, and insufficient attention to the external environment during project design. It was also recognised that projects were more likely to succeed when account was taken of the socio-economic context in which they operated.

The rationale for imparting training of NGOs in project cycle management is the wish to achieve sustainable development. Projects should identify and understand the different roles and entitlements between various beneficiaries in focused communities, and the special challenges faced by disadvantaged groups. During recent decades, many tools have been developed to strengthen the management of projects, such as project cycle management, the logical framework and rapid appraisal techniques. Similarly, technological revolution has also contributed significantly to plan, design, implement and keep track of the activities by all team members while geographically spread and/or different locations.

Participants of the training will go through all critical phases of project cycle management both theoretically and practically and there will be ample room through group exercises to benefit from the rich knowledge of participants that they will be bringing from their respective fields and focus areas.

The training will specifically focus on:

  • Comprehend concepts and terminologies of Project, Project Management
  • Recognize various phases of Project Cycle Management and its importance
  • Understand and sharpen their skills to use various analytical tools for Project Identification
  • Use Project structure, Logical Framework Analysis, External Environment, OVI and sustainability and work plans based on activity analysis during projects’ design phase and preparation phase
  • Learn to undertake use of technology for documentation, communication, quality assessments at each phase of PCM

Number of Participants

  • A maximum of 20 participants will be selected for the training. Women applications, differently abled persons and staff belonging to ethnic/religious minorities are encouraged to apply. Preference will be given to participants representing organizations working in remote and under-served areas.

Selection Criteria

  • Primary responsibility for program/project management.
  • Mid or senior level manager in a civil society organization, preferably field staff of large CSOs or CSOs with main office in small towns and cities
  • Participants from women led organisations, different abled persons, religious/ethnic minorities will be given priority
  • This 3-day training session is suitable for CSO and NGO workers of all levels particularly from locally-based organizations with a small staff size
  • Willing to pay fee PKR 10,000 for the training. Exemptions may be applied to CSOs with limited funding and those belonging to marginalised groups. Discount of 10% on early registration by 1st August 2021 and 20% discount will be awarded to women participants
  • Commitment to apply learning in their work, including dissemination of learning within their organisation Commitment to apply learning in their work, including dissemination of learning within their organisation

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is a humanitarian and development organization, registered in Pakistan, head-quartered in Karachi and implementing initiatives throughout Asia. CWSA is member of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) Alliance, a member of Sphere and their regional partner in Asia and also manages the ADRRN Quality & Accountability Hub in Asia.
Facilitator/Lead Trainer:

Ms. Sofia Noreen is an ambitious professional with over 28 years’ eventful career studded with brilliance predominantly in the area of research, program/ project designing and execution, monitoring, international development, and liaison & coordination. Her areas of focus include Gender and Women Empowerment, Climate Change/ Food Security within rural communities, and Governance issues both at policy and implementation levels.

She is a dependable professional with a comprehensive understanding of Pakistani politics, the parliamentary setup, and electoral reform agenda and familiar with election management systems both for general and local bodies elections.

Ms. Sofia has delivered multi-day training programs on train-the-trainer, team building, and other related topics. She is an articulate communicator who is highly well versed in Log Frame Analysis, Risk Analysis, and management for Result Based Management, budgeting, staff recruitment, capacity development, NGO management, stakeholder engagement, evaluation of program and projects, report writing, and manuals. Throughout her career, she has been committed to following the principles set forth with the UDHR, ICCPR, CEDAW, and other international conventions and standards.

Scholarship Details: Special Scholarships are available for those organization that send two or more females to attend the training.

Additional Details: The final deadline for applications is August 5th, 2021. Please be assured that incomplete applications will not be entertained.

When: 11th June, 2021
What time: 2:30 TO 4:30 PM (Pakistan Standard Time)
Where: ZOOM – Link to be shared with registered participants – Register Now
Language: Urdu
How long: 2 hours
Who it is for: Pakistan-based NGOs interested in registration with the Economic Affairs Division (EAD)
Format: Presentations followed by discussion

Speakers:

Ms. Adeela Bukhari – Joint Secretary NGOS/INGOs — Ministry of Economic Affairs Division, Pakistan

Objectives of the webinar:

  • Navigate through the processes and procedures of signing an MOU with EAD in Pakistan
  • Explore the scope and nature of support available to NGOs under the CWSA NGO Help Facility

Background

Civil Society Organizations in Pakistan, especially working at the grass-root level, sometime finds it difficult to navigate through regulatory framework due to lack of understanding to the government procedures and requirements. The regulatory information is at times complex and technical in nature. The need is to simplify the information, develop guidance notes for the documentations and advice on how to do follow-up on their application.

It is critical for all NGOs, small or large, to sign an MOU with the Economic Affairs Division in Pakistan to receive funding and implement projects across Pakistan. The process for the registration with EAD and then the reporting procedures including the submission of Annual Plan of Actions, NOCs for projects and biannual reporting requirements are difficult to fully comprehend for NGOs of all type and scale.

To help overcome this, CWSA is providing practical assistance to local and national NGOs in Pakistan that require assistance with any of the processes and procedural requirements for application to EAD.

CWSA has established an “NGO Help Facility” for technical discussion, coaching, on-line information resources and virtual clinics to support NGOs intending to file their applications and sign MOUs with the EAD. The help facility will also support organization in understanding the reporting requirements at EAD.

This service is facilitative and free of cost. CWSA will help to clarify application guidelines, support organizations to develop complete application documentation as per EAD requirements, and, guide for any needed follow up. Activities offered by the NGO Help Facility will include the following:

  • Advisory sessions/ days for NGOs
  • Webinars on EAD Process and Procedures
  • Creation of a center within CWSA, available to any and all NGOs on demand.
  • Provision of training and coaching to NGO representatives to support development, and revision of their application documentation

Disclaimer: Assistance provided through the NGO Help Facility is a pro bono service that offers technical support and brokers positive relationships.  Engagement, in itself does not guarantee that the client organization will be granted an MOU without having successfully completed all of EAD’s required due diligence processes. CWSA mandate is to support the local NGOs in understanding the process and procedures for the MOU with EAD and ensure complete documentation to avoid unnecessary delays due to incomplete documentations.

Interested in Participating? Register here for the Webinar! 

Community World Service Asia is a Pakistani humanitarian and development organization addressing factors that divide people by promoting inclusiveness, shared values, diversity, and interdependence. It engages in the self-implementation of projects, cooperation through partners, and the provision of capacity building trainings and resources at the national, regional and global levels.

2021Tue06Jul(Jul 6)9:00 AMThu08(Jul 8)5:00 PMFeaturedTraining on Monitoring and Evaluation for Impact Management9:00 AM - 5:00 PM (8) PST MurreeTheme:Quality and Accountability,CEPType:TrainingRegister Here

by Bonaventure Sokpoh

Senior Advisor on CHS & Outreach, CHS Alliance

“We need to look at localisation in a broader sense in terms of exchange of knowledge & having our own philosophy, and not just in an operational context.” Themrise Khan told an online audience of 75 aid workers mostly based in Pakistan. “Localisation will mean much more if we use our own existing resources and build them further.”

Themrise Khan, an independent development professional and researcher based in Karachi in Pakistan, was speaking at CHS Alliance’s first in-county workshop on “Bringing the CHS closer to the people we serve”, which was virtually held in Pakistan and co-hosted with CHS Alliance member Community World Service Asia (CWSA).

We were also honoured to hear from Marvin Parvez, Regional Director, CWSA. Both speakers talked about seeing the “localisation” process as an opportunity for knowledge exchange between international and national actors and encouraged Pakistani organisations engaging in the global aid sector to use their own philosophies and values.

I was pleased to see the level of interest and engagement in this national workshop. We had 75 participants including representatives from national, international NGOs and networks as well national disaster management authorities, research join us for this interactive session.

A group of Pakistani women in a rural community raising their hands during a leadership skill training session in Sindh © Community World Service Asia

Participants heard some experiences of using the CHS and being members of CHS Alliance from Mr Shahid Ali, Executive Director at Fast Rural Development Program and Aamir Malik, Director RAPID Fund, Concern Worldwide – Pakistan. The opportunity to increase accountability to people we serve through engaging with the CHS was shared. Other benefits highlighted were improving an organisation’s own systems as well as partners’ systems, including community-based organisations.

My main take-aways for how CHS Alliance can support national organisations in Pakistan based on the vibrant discussions with participants are:

  • Intensify awareness on the CHS with national NGOs, community-based organisations and people to amplify the already visible interest and curiosity on the CHS among these actors.
  • Inform organisations of the existing options to address resource and cost barriers for CHS verification for national organisations (e.g. the new CHS self-assessment tools and the Humanitarian Quality Assurance Initiative’s subsidy fund for Independent Verification and Certification) while continuing efforts to increase accessibility to the CHS and CHS verification including availability in local languages and user-friendly tools.
  • Continue exploring and advocating for the potential of CHS verification to contribute optimising the resources for multiple funding partners’ due diligence and capacity assessment, including requirements from national governments.

The atmosphere of the workshop was energising and encouraged the Alliance to continue the conversation with national and local actors. Stay tuned for more as this important work progresses!

Let me know if you have any questions or would like to get more involved: bsokpoh@chsalliance.org.

Competent and well-managed staff are at the heart of an accountable and effective organisation, therefore they need to be equipped with the right skills and behaviours. The Core Humanitarian Competency Framework explains the link between the organisation’s ability to deliver impact, and what it takes to be successful through personal and organisational excellence.

Some background

The Core Humanitarian Competencies Framework (CHCF) as first developed in 2011, by representatives from a cross-section of humanitarian organisations under the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (now the Start Network) led by ActionAid and facilitated by People In Aid (now the CHS Alliance). The competencies framework recommends a set of core competencies that organisations could adopt to systematically build the skills of their employees and thereby improve their efforts to assist people affected by crisis throughout the world. Six areas of core competencies defined as “the essential behaviours required by all staff, influenced by their skills and knowledge”, were identified. The framework was successfully embedded in many of the participating agencies’ operations and members of CHS Alliance.

Ten years on, is the CHCF fit for purpose?

In 2017, and as part of the Start Network/DFID-funded Talent Development Project (TDP), the CHS Alliance completed a review of the CHCF 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 the CHCF is fit for purpose, adds value and is highly relevant for staff development and humanitarian efforts in general and 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. It was unclear how it links to career paths, how changes in behaviours can be identified and measured, and HR practitioners were not familiar enough with competency frameworks to guide project managers and field staff on how to adopt them.

There were encouraging cases of how the framework has been used in various contexts, suggesting that it is an important tool to professionalise the sector. The review also revealed that it would be helpful to have more tools on how to use the framework.

Following the review, additional materials and tools were developed, translated to several languages and made accessible to support the application of competency-based human resources (HR) management practices, including an introductory animation in six languages!

To download the CHCF guide, click here.

How is CHCF used within CHS Alliance’s membership?

Three years after the review, we have decided to put the CHCF under the spotlight and share the “user experience” feedback from two very different Alliance members who have adopted the framework.*

To help more of our members understand how to get the most out of the CHCF, as well as practical considerations for rolling it out, we hear from:

Asma Shehzad, Head of Support, Community World Service Asia

Colin Rogers, Head of Disaster Preparedness & Response, Plan International

When and how did your organisation first implement the CHCF?

Asma Shehzad (AS): We started this process back in 2017 by working on the CHCF with CHS Alliance for piloting within Pakistan through academia. The initial idea was to share the framework with our partner universities in Pakistan and develop a tool/guide for teachers to assess student performances on competencies. Later, in 2018 we started the implementation process of CHCF within our own organisation. In 2020 we moved to include the framework in our Annual Appraisal System, which means all CWSA employees will now be evaluated against the core competencies highlighted in their job descriptions. All staff have now been briefed on the new appraisal system, the core competencies and how to appraise against them.

Colin Rogers (CR): It is only more recently that we have started to integrate the CHCF into our work. We chose to focus on the competencies required for Plan International staff to join our roster for surge capacity.

Why did you decide to adopt the CHCF in your organisation?

CR: For us, it was important as we sought to build the strength of our roster, ensuring we had the right people with the right competencies who we could deploy within Plan International to provide additional surge capacity when our Country Offices were responding to new crises.

Using the CHCF provides Country Offices with reassurance that the deploying staff member has the right competencies to support their response activities. It also provides a framework for evaluating applicants who want to join our roster.

We are now looking at how to use the CHCF to develop standard competencies against emergency response job profiles, integrating the CHCF into the role profile, and also framing interview selection questions around the CHCF. This is based on a request from our country office teams who are looking for a level of guidance on hiring humanitarian staff.

AS: We felt that the CHCF could providing clarity to all staff about the behaviour and competencies the organisation expects from them, from recruiting through to retainment. CHCF helps to focus employees’ behaviour on things that matter most in a humanitarian or development organisation. The CHCF provides a common and standardised way to harmonise, select and develop talent.

What areas of your organisation did you start with?

AS: We embedded the CHCF in job descriptions, annual performance appraisals, the recruitment process and also objective setting at the beginning of each calendar year.

CR: Our emergency response roster was our starting point and this is now being expanded to other areas of humanitarian staffing.

How has the implementation of the CHCF in your organisation evolved?

CR: This is still very much a piece of work in progress. We have been revising our Emergency Response Manual and as part of this we are looking at how to integrate the CHCF in to our guidance to support country offices identify competencies needed for programme technical specialists.

AS: We have moved step by step since adopting the framework in 2018 and have come a long way since then. The framework is part and parcel of all our organisational activities whether at head office or in the field.

We started with development of job descriptions, aligning them with CHCF, then we moved to the appraisal system, and are now crafting all our recruitment procedures according to the framework. We have trained our staff through various capacity enhancement platforms and have now finally embedded it into most of our HR systems.

What were the main challenges? What about successes?

AS: Introducing a new framework and resultant policies and practices requires significant investment of resources, technical expertise, staff time and energy alongside other competing priorities.

Initially it was a challenge to develop understanding on CHCF framework. For that we had to conduct a number of sessions with staff so that they could have clear understanding of it.

Most of the references in the framework are linked to people in humanitarian crises, which might not be the case for many situations in our work. We took on the challenge by contextualising examples to our own working scenarios.

It was also a challenge to link this framework with support staff like drivers, helpers etc. As key stakeholders in our operations, it was vital they complied with the institutional stance including the CHCF.

For countries where English is not the first language, explaining the CHCF and helping staff apply it in their appraisals and job descriptions has been a challenge. The framework needs to be explained simply to be understood and applied. It has proven more complicated to roll out for staff in our project implementing countries.

However, the hard work is paying off as we have seen a number of successes. It’s really helped us to focus on key competencies for each position – making our objectives more purposeful. Annual appraisals have also become more relevant and result oriented.

By clarifying the competencies we expect our staff to achieve, and by explaining how they link to the organisation’s ability to deliver impact, we have been able to send clear messages about what is expected to be successful and attain personal and organisational goals effectively.

CR: I’d say that the main challenge has been a lack of familiarity with the CHCF outside of the Disaster Risk Management team.

What are your future plans for the CHCF? Do you think any further guidance and support is needed?

AS: We are planning to implement the CHCF in all our HR processes, next up is integrating the framework into our interview and supervisors’ assessments.

We would appreciate sessions to develop further understanding of the framework. We are also hoping to see a more localised collective approach to applying CHCF by Alliance members.

CR: We plan to use the CHCF to guide recruitment, designing job descriptions and developing interview questions. This is of interest for our Country Offices who have asked for guidance on how to recruit the right level of staff with the relevant competencies required to support their humanitarian response activities. We want to ensure a diversity of people on our roster and who are hired. We are also looking at how to use the CHCF to help us update our core learning and development  programmes for roster members.

How does the application of a competency framework improve the overall effectiveness and accountability of your organisation?

CR: Whilst the competency framework is not embedded across the whole organisation, we hope that it will support establishing key requirements for different technical and managerial positions. Recruiting with the framework in mind will ensure that Plan recruits at the appropriate capacity level to fulfil our dual mandate as a development and humanitarian organisation.

AS: Competencies have helped Community World Service Asia to identify the visible behaviours that successful performers should demonstrate while working on any given job.

Focusing on competencies has underpinned the progression and success of the organisation.

How and where should organisations start if they are interested in adopting competency-based approach?

AS: The following steps are key to start with:

  • Support and buy-in from leadership.
  • Staff must fully commit and understand the framework.
  • Making the framework part of organisational standards.
  • Adopting it to local contexts.
  • Ensure feedback is taken and given.
  • Link the CHCF to existing HR processes, forms and formats.

CR: Identify windows of opportunity, small areas of work where you can demonstrate the impact and the usefulness. From this you generate buy in and support and this in turn leads to greater integration. Don’t give up – persevere and you will find your job descriptions become clearer, and the interview and selection process easier and with that stronger programmes with greater impact.


We are currently evaluating people management resources of the CHS Alliance with the intention to ensuring their content, format and purpose continue to meet organisational and user needs of our members.

If you are using the CHCF in your organisation, we would greatly appreciate hearing your views and learning from your experience. Please contact Gozel Baltaeva on gbaltaeva@chsalliance.org for more.

* Some responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Reasons for the lack of reports
Establishing trust within communities through improved communication
Identifying ways of ensuring better dialogue

These were the key discussion points at the webinar on How to Make Complaint Response Mechanism Participatory & Responsive organised and hosted by Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network’s (ADRRN) Quality and Accountability (Q&A) Hub as part of the 2020 Regional NGO Partnership Events[1].

Ester Dross, expert in humanitarian accountability, facilitated the session and was joined by Janet Omogi, PSEA Coordinator at the Afghanistan Inter-Agency ( IASC).

“We have all met in the past to discuss complaints handling, so this is not something new.” A  webinar on Complaints Handling was organised and hosted by Community World Service Asia (CWSA) and Act Church of Sweden in May 2020 and covered basic aspects related to complaints. However, the recent  Humanitarian Accountability Report 2020 published by the CHS Alliance has again highlighted efficient complaints handling as a major gap among humanitarian organisations, with commitment 5 of the Core Humanitarian Standard being marked with the lowest scoring.

“This is worrying considering that efficient complaints handling is the key to close the accountability circle,” said Ester, initiating the discussion at the virtual event.

What are the barriers to Complaint Response Mechanism (CRM)?

Participants at the webinar shared some of the barriers people face while registering a complaint or adopting complaint response mechanisms in their organisations.

In the opening poll of the webinar, 95% of the participants confirmed that they have a complaints response mechanism in place but they also commented that the limited number of channels to receive a complaint is missing in order to make CRM effective within their organisations.

Let us move back to accountability

Accountability is based upon a number of commonly agreed commitments, interlinked with each other, resulting in an accountability circle. The key commitment within this circle is the one on receiving complaints.

If our complaints system is not robust, how do we know if we fulfill the other CHS commitments well? Do we know if our information is appropriate, if participation is meaningful, if our staff is well-trained and well supported, if our program is efficient and timely?  Our gap is the lack of efficient complaints handling; without it, we cannot be sure that we are adhering well to all the other commitments,” remarked Ester.

Giving a Voice to Communities

The IARAN report from 2018, From Voices to Choices, underlines not only the importance of community participation in decision-making and shaping projects, programs, but also contributing to processes and procedures.

“This is only possible when participation really means giving a Voice to communities which results for them to have Choices; it is therefore important to speak up and popularise accountability and a change of organisational culture.”

A quick and efficient way of giving a voice and offering choices to communities is about knowledge sharing. We need to improve and contextualise knowledge and information we share with communities. This knowledge can involve information about our projects, selection criteria, duration of the activity, staff responsibilities, staff obligations, core commitments the organisation and its staff adhere to, behavioral rules applying to staff and volunteers as well as partners, inclusiveness and diversity. Most importantly, how we encourage, receive and handle complaints. Information sharing and improved communication including around sensitive issues contribute to more effective CRM.

A short video was shared on how information can be shared on expected and prohibited behaviour to staff and the communities when technological access allows this.

“The video clearly shows that if we communicate more extensively about duties and rights, the people we work with know what to expect from us. In relation with complaints handling, this means to have more clarity on rules, simplifying the core commitments through appropriate languages and formats. It also means to have a very clear communication within communities that raising a complaint is a right and that the organisation has a duty to respond.

Communicate Effectively and Build Trust

How can we communicate more efficiently on our complaints system?

Communicating clearly about your organisational values, missions, ethics, project activities and explaining obligations and prohibitions in a simple and culturally appropriate way in consultation with communities is key to efficiently communicating about complaints systems.  It is vital to have different channels of communication for communities and other stakeholders for raising complaints: this could be through a hotline, an email, a trusted community member, and/or an external service provider.

“Communicate and demonstrate clearly that sensitive complaints will be handled outside the project or community level, that they will be forwarded to the central safeguarding unit or management and dealt with independently and professionally. Take time and be inclusive, sit together with management and staff, but also with community leaders and members to find appropriate channels and solutions to improve communications with communities and including awareness on sensitive issues and how to complain about them,” shared Ester.

Complaints boxes can seem to be an easy solution; however, a number of questions need to be addressed if they should be contributing to receiving sensitive complaints.

  • What will happen once somebody drops a complaint inside the box?
  • How long will it take? Who will know about the complaint?
  • Who will open the box? How frequently?
  • Where does it go afterwards? Who will be involved?  What can one expect?

Building trust for all stakeholders to know that complaints are received and addressed securely and confidentially is essential. We must demonstrate that the system is accessible to all, fully inclusive and the process transparent. For building trust, it is equally important to deal with complaints in a timely manner. A robust investigation process should not last longer than thirty days. When an investigation process is over, it is important to communicate this to the complainant and survivor to inform them that the process is at its end and the findings of the investigation will soon be shared with them.

Best Practices: Addressing PSEA[1] complaints in Afghanistan

Questions were raised regarding what channels to use in remote and hard-to-reach areas and what resources to put in place to respond to complaints in conflict-affected areas?

Janet Omogi addressed the questions while talking on key strategic areas of concerns about cultural sensitivities while discussing PSEA and how they affect women in Afghanistan. She also discussed the two-way communication channels for making PSEA complaints and getting responses.

“The PSEA and CRM environment have significantly changed in Afghanistan. We see increased awareness as more agencies are involved in PSEA discussions. Most PSEA agencies have designated focal points to promote better handling of complaints. Capacity building work is improving awareness and understanding PSEA obligations. SOPs have been circulated to clusters, organisations and other response entities on how to handle PSEA allegations for better guidance. Moreover, collaborations between PSEA Task Force and Accountability to Affect Population Working Group ensures that people are better aware of their rights and of ways to report for more accountability.”

In many parts of Afghanistan, the victims of SEA are not able to speak out about abuses due to the existence of the culture of silence. The norms and attitudes about gender and hierarchy in Afghanistan does not allow the affected parties to speak openly. Additionally, the social structures in the country such as community leaders and decision makers are often men which also hinders the process to an extent. Another challenge commonly observed is underreporting. “Hiding the SEA issue under the carpet and assuming its existence, is a problem that needs to be addressed.”

Sharing some ways to address these issues, Janet said, “We continue to build relationship with all stakeholders in the country, including partner organisations, community and government officials. One of the key ways to address such issues is distribution of IEC material and building capacity. We are in the process of contextualizing and finalizing IEC material, for it to be widely used by different affect people. Moreover, we are also working on maintaining diplomatic engagement, building trust and respect, transparency and accountability with the stakeholders and communities we work with.”

What is needed for an effective complaint reporting?

To promote two-way communication channels for making complaints and getting responses that fit Afghanistan, it is important to provide a diverse range of medians for communication. This will allow the people to choose the desired channel, which makes them feel most comfortable and safe to use.

“Some community members say they are most comfortable talking to local NGOs and community leaders, whereas some prefer calling the Awaaz Afghanistan helpline[2] to make a complaint. Some organizations have internal CRMs, including phone lines and designated people, that the community can access – the more communication choices the better. We have Helpline guidelines and protocols for sharing information in the Complaint and Response Mechanism. This helps the staff on how to respond to complaints, what are the dos and don’ts and what the timeframe is to respond to a complaint.”

PSEA as a cross-cutting coordination issue

The PSEA task force cannot work alone to mitigate the issue. All agencies need to have designated PSEA focal points and alternates to enhance collective PSEA accountability. Coordination requires having the right people from different entities: the focal point list should be updated every six months. This is emphasized on because the right person is required to participate in discussions to come up with clear actions points and strategies on how best to engage further.

“In Afghanistan, PSEA is a topic of discussion in cluster, sector and other coordination body meetings, as the first agenda item, not the last. Again here, I will emphasize on the collaboration of PSEA Task Force with AAP Working Group as this helps to bring everyone on board,” said Janet.

Reflections

  • CRM has to be able to accommodate all kind of complaints; any form of exploitation is part of sensitive complaints even if not sexual exploitation.
  • Identifying and listing relevant national laws is important, as some issues should be reported to national authorities
  • To encourage project participants towards reporting complaints, organisations have to build strong trust with the communities they work with
  • It is essential to train staff on how to receive complaints from the field and communities directly while maintaining confidentiality and dignity of project participants

[1] Hosted in collaboration by the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Community World Service Asia.

[2] Protection against sexual exploitation and abuse

[3] Awaaz Afghanistan, the country’s first nationwide inter-agency humanitarian call centre, offers a single point of contact for all Afghans – including returnees and those affected by conflict and natural disasters – to receive critical information about available assistance and support, as well as to register feedback and complaints about the response.

When: 14th December, 2020
What time: 11:00AM to 12:30PM (Pakistan Standard Time)
Where: ZOOM – Link to be shared with registered participants – Register Here

Language: English
How long: 90 minutes
Who is it for: Humanitarian and development professionals, academics and UN staff committed to Quality and Accountability standards and approaches for principled actions

Format: Presentations, Group Discussion, Experience Sharing
Moderator / Facilitator: Ms. Uma Narayanan
Speakers / Panelists:
Mayfourth D. Luneta–Deputy Executive Director, Centre for Disaster Preparedness Foundation Inc (CDP)
Mr. Hiroaki HIGUCHI– Manager of Program Development Division / M&E division, Japan Platform
Ms. Coleen Heemskerk—Director of Strategic Planning, Act Church of Sweden & Board Member CHS Alliance

Background

The 2020 Regional NGO Partnership Events are scheduled as a series of consultations and webinars, that will bring key humanitarian actors — local and national NGOs, INGOs, NGO networks, Red Cross and Crescent Movement, UN agencies, academics and others for focused discussions and perspective sharing on how disaster risk reduction, emergency preparedness and humanitarian response should transform in this changing context. These events are organised collaboratively by the Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and Community World Service Asia.

The 2020 Regional NGO Partnership Events will be an online journey of three months, starting with a consultative meeting on ‘the future of humanitarian response in Asia and the Pacific’, followed by various consultations and webinars, and a research that will produce a policy paper on the sector’s future in the region.

ADRRN’s Quality and Accountability (Q&A) thematic hub is hosted by Community World Service Asia. The focus of the hub is to strengthen principled humanitarian action in the region through promoting Q&A standards, approaches and principles among ADRRN members. The Q&A hub is organising webinars and panel discussions around different themes on Q&A during the 2020 Regional Partnership Events which will result in a position paper that will advocate for continuous mainstreaming of Q&A.

About the Webinar:

Quality and Accountability mainstreaming is a strategy towards promoting and sustaining greater accountability to the affected population. For successful accountability mainstreaming to take place, changes are required at different levels in the organisation. It involves the integration of Q&A in both the programmatic and operational aspects in the organisation. Q&A mainstreaming within organisations is key to shifting attitudes and practices toward internal motivation to implement and self-monitor Q&A compliance. This organisation-wide process requires engagement across departments to assess existing practices, procedures, and policies, and then adopt changes through allocation of required resources.

Organisations tend to embark on the accountability mainstreaming process through various entry points and means. The panel discussion will explore the different levels and ways of mainstreaming accountability.

Register here: Is Accountability truly embedded in Organization’s core values and activities?

Moderator / Facilitator:

Ms. Uma Narayanan—Independent Consultant

Ms. Narayanan specialises in human resources, organisational development and accountability in the humanitarian sector. She has a background in International Organisational and Systems Development and worked as an Organisation Development and Human Resources practitioner in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is committed to quality and accountability and is a Sphere and Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) trainer and advisor.

Photo Credit: www.unocha.org

As part of the 2020 Regional NGO Partnership Events[1], a webinar titled ‘Safeguarding: Know – Act – Apply’, was hosted and organised by Asian Disaster Risk Reduction Network’s (ADRRN) Quality and Accountability (Q&A) Hub and Community World Service Asia (CWSA). The webinar discussed on-going initiatives on community safeguarding and explored how safeguarding can be adapted more widely and to traditional contexts. It also built upon approaches of familiarizing communities on safeguarding policies and the humanitarian community’s accountability to them on the issue.

More than 250 humanitarian and development practitioners participated in this 90-minute webinar that shared a wide array of diverse expertise and knowledge from all over the world. Panelists, Smruti Patel, Founder and Co-Director of The Global Mentoring Initiatives (GMI) and Member of International Convening Committee of A4EP based in Switzerland; and Kjell Magne Heide, Complaints and Accountability Advisor at Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) based in Norway joined the session to share best practices on safeguarding.

Speaking about Protection against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA), Ester Dross, lead facilitator and moderator of the webinar, shared, “We would like to look at safeguarding from a different angle, to give more weight to the P of Prevention. Safeguarding is a common task; a common goal and we all have a role during the travel to reach the final destination.”

What do you understand by safeguarding? Is this a policy? Is this about protection? Participants shared their views on what safeguarding mean to them during the webinar.

Safeguarding is a framework including a range of different policies, procedures and practices to protect vulnerable populations from any harm which can be provoked by the very existence of our work, including code of conduct safeguarding policy, child safeguarding, guidelines, good practice, HR manuals, and also establishing efficient Complaint Response Mechanisms.

Ester shared, “When we talk about a safeguarding framework we speak about protecting people from any harm that we as an organization potentially bring to themharm as a result of power imbalance, linked to gender, to poverty, to any kind of different vulnerabilities, as much for children as for adults. Internally displaced, refugees and migrants are particularly exposed to safeguarding risks.

Power imbalances bring us to Accountability!

When talking about Safeguarding measures, it is essential to acknowledge that most sexual exploitation or abuse has as an underlying reason – the power differential between humanitarian workers and the people we work with or for. The shortest definition of accountability is the responsible use of power.

“Safeguarding and accountability is about how we change those power dynamics, how we change our organisational culture into a more open, more equilibrated, more inclusive and more diverse work space where different voices can not only be heard but lead to choices for the people who are in the center of humanitarian aid.  This also means that communities need to be better integrated and taken into account when we define our safeguarding strategies,” suggested Ester.

Power is about wealth, independence, ability to set standards, influence, independence, privilege, status and but also about knowledge. It is not easy to change quickly some of these factors; however, access to information and knowledge sharing contribute to have more power, therefore sharing information and knowledge are key, not so difficult to implement and the essential basis for equilibrating power imbalances and integrate communities fully into the accountability cycle, preventing exploitation and abuse.

While sharing some of her own experiences on witnessing issues of PSEA as an aid worker, Smruti shared,

“We need to work with partners to really think about safeguarding holistically. We have to learn how to create a culture inside and outside the organisation because unless we start inside with the staff you cannot permeate that culture outside of safeguarding.”

Identifying key steps and channels to discuss Safeguarding

Smruti highlighted steps that need to be taken to ensure a culture of safeguarding through key messages. According to her, it was vital to sit together with senior management teams and initiate a discussion on value.  Citing her own experience, she said,

“Through consistent and meaningful dialogue, we laid out the policies and procedures in place and staff’s knowledge on that. We mapped the communications channels in the organisation to communicate the policies and code of conduct. For instance, as part of their communication strategy, a partner organisation based in Myanmar shared how they discussed such issues during their regular staff meetings held at project level on a quarterly and monthly basis. These are opportunities to communicate the orgainsation’s code of conduct and remind people constantly on adhering to these policies at every level of the organisation.” 

Secondly, building the capacity of staff on effectively bringing PSEA to the communities is essential.  Since the issue is a sensitive one, it needs to be done in a strategic way for which relevant staff should be trained.

“I encouraged the staff to talk about the values as part of code of conduct in terms of transferring the code of conduct to the communities we work with. We mapped out the target communities and communication channels in place in terms of programming. We looked at those channels and what key messages can be provided through them.”

The third step is to move in the communities. This involves identifying key focal persons from among the communities to engage with on enlightening the people about safeguarding.

“In the communities we visited, there were child protection focal points, some were working on women issues as gender activists and other were working on GBV[2]. We saw these platforms as a way to communicate the key messages on safeguarding. Additionally, we aimed at setting up a mechanism through which the community can approach us with their concerns. This holistic approach ensured engagement of people on the ground, people who are dealing with safeguarding issues and get their collective wisdom, establishing the right kind of communication system in place. When the feedback came in the organisation, the key messages were drafted on basis of that. The key inspiration are those six core principles of SEA.” 

Smruti encouraged organisations to explore communication networks within the communities through which key messages can be communicated and clearly understood by the communities. The key messages have to be appropriate to men, women, girls and boys. Likewise, internal messaging is as important as external messaging. Working collaboratively with other organisations is vital in addition to understanding the internal culture of the organisation.

Meaningful dialogue with communities and stakeholders helps to build trust, which is another important pillar.

To take PSEA forward through collaborations, building trust with communities and staff through open discussions is vital. Then we ACT. By acting on the complaints and feedback, we can show the trust. To maintain trust, you need to act,” added Smruti.

Investigations as a Preventive Tool for SEA

What are the core principles of conducting PSEA investigations?

How do we encourage people for to report?

How can we overcome rumors, especially about SEA?

Participants raised these questions in the webinar. While addressing these questions, Kjell Magne Heide talked about investigations on SEA,

You need to know the expected behavior of people that work with you and you should know how you will be able to report it. Sadly, many people do not report it. And even if they do, they have expectations which sometimes might not be realistic. Like Smruti said, there has to be a culture, it should be built into you and not rely on documents always. However, in an investigation, one has to refer to documents and policies,” initiated Kjell in his discussion about investigations on SEA.


Trust has to be earned. “It takes years to build trust and it only takes a day to lose it. You have to be structured in order to build and maintain this trust. It is therefore essential to assign a system that fits in the context you are working in and it is crucial that you follow the procedures.”


“There are some limitations to investigations, especially now in the COVID-19 situation. Be honest about the limitations with the communities, so that the people you work with have the right expectations to maintain the trust. Be sure to treat with dignity and respect. It is easy for me an as investigator to judge complaints on basis of severity. For the person who registered the complaint, it is a serious concern and therefore, I have to treat all complaints with the same dignity and respect, independent of how I as an investigator judge the severity of the case.”

Kjell recalls a case in a country office, where one staff filed a complaint of SEA against another which was thoroughly investigated and the perpetrator was found guilty and was dismissed.

“There were more complaints filed in the same context from the same office. This shows that through vigilant and transparent investigations, we can demonstrate a reaction to the alleged perpetrator when we have enough evidence. This contributes building trust with others who then feel empowered to come forward with their own concerns.”

Kjell remarked however that it is difficult to conduct SEA investigations and while investigating one has to be true to themselves and the organisation.

Key Takeaways

  • The Code of Conduct ensures that an organisation’s employees understand and accept legal and professional responsibilities of working in the organisation and to promote good practice and appropriate behavior among employees and promote the highest levels of ethical behavior
  • Promotion of safeguarding within the organisation is key to cultural changes
  • Media is an effective channel to raise awareness on safeguarding and to highlight expected and prohibited behaviors around the issue
  • An allegation cannot be substantiated unless facts are substantiated with reasonable inference on the balance of probabilities through a transparent and active investigation process
  • Thorough contextual research and integration of community voices is key to implementing safeguarding principles effectively in emergencies.

[1] collaborative events hosted collaboratively by Community World Service Asia (CWSA), Asian Disaster Reduction and Response Network (ADRRN), International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

[2] Gender-based Violence

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