Effective Complaints Response Mechanisms are crucial to ensure accountability to affected people...

Effective Complaints Response Mechanisms are crucial to ensure accountability to affected people in the COVID-19 crisis

Photo credit: ACT Government-Australia

Key principles of safe and efficient complaints handling Ways to develop key messages on raising awareness on the need for complaints systems Increased challenges during Covid-19 crisis and potential solutions

These were the discussion points of the webinar on Remote Complaints Response Mechanism (CRM) and the Collective Feedback Mechanism the context of COVID-19 hosted by Community World Service Asia and Act Church of Sweden on May 13th.

More than 200 humanitarian and development practitioners took part in this two-hour webinar that offered a wide range of expertise and knowledge-sharing from across the word.

Ester Dross, expert in humanitarian accountability, facilitated the session and was joined by panelists Madiha Shafi from the Danish Refugee Council, Turkey, Syed Rashid Bin Jamal, PSEA Officer of Inter Sector Coordination Group (ISCG), Bangladesh, Sameera Noori, Managing Director at Asia Leaders Organization for Humanitarian Aid), Afghanistan, Khadar Abdulahi Nur, CRM Officer for Danish Refugee Council, Somalia and Iqbal Shahid, Program Specialist for Concern Worldwide in Pakistan.

Upholding Quality and Accountability and Maintaining Performance during COVID-19

When operating in a humanitarian environment, we are all mindful of the power imbalance. The most vulnerable have the least power. That leads to a gap between what we want to accomplish and what communities want to receive or how they want to be treated. It has led many organizations to agree on principles that will strengthen their responsibility to right holders and members of the society.

During the COVID-19 crises, accountability is even more important. Given the need for many of our staff to work remotely and the challenges with participation an information sharing, there can often be an increase rather than a decrease in inappropriate behavior or gaps in programming and implementation, leading to complaints

. shared Ester.

Going a bit back in time, discussions on accountability have finally led to the Core Humanitarian Standard in 2015. The overall aim of the standard is to put communities and people affected by the crisis at the center, based on the Humanitarian principles of Humanity, Impartiality, Independence, and Neutrality. The commitments focus on the quality of the response, the structure of the projects, and the response and the organization itself and its resources. Ester added,

If our organizations and staff do not live up to our commitments or cause negative impacts, it is crucial for people to be able to raise concerns.

Ester discussed the key pillars to ensure that organizations have a robust system of Complaints and Responses.

Our system needs to be accessible! This not only includes access in the sense of locations but also access considering various capabilities (children, disabled, elderly, minorities, women etc.). It must be entirely inclusive, taking into account the circumstances of possible complainants.

How safe is our system? Can people access it without taking risks? Security for everyone includes physical and psychosocial safety and health problems. Community must be able to access communications modes with ease.

Confidentiality is key so that community members feel that they are secure and can entrust us with sensitive information. Information and details on complaints need to be safeguarded from any intentional or unintentional disclosure.

The system needs to be transparent. Potential users need to be provided transparent mechanism information.

The COVID-19 virus has presented a stress test for organizations worldwide, with the internet playing a crucial role in keeping critical infrastructure and resources connected and available. The panelists shared best practices and asked participants to further share how their organizations are managing programs in the current crisis, while maintaining high levels of quality and accountability and adhering to relevant standards, specifically the Core Humanitarian Standard, which is key for successful complaints handling.

Recommendations Highlighted:

  • Effective social media management is key for information sharing in this crisis
  • Staff training on misconduct and Protection against sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) to highlight expected behavior when responding to COVID-19 especially in remote areas
  • Development of pamphlets to share free helpline numbers for counseling and feedback
  • Organizations urged to review Complaints Response Mechanisms to ensure once complains are received, they can be channeled to appropriate staff as quickly as possible
  • Review IT structure, data management, official communicating software and digital media interaction to ensure that confidentiality of reports is not breached
  • Develop a channel through which complaints at community-level reach programmatic teams at offices efficiently through effective use of mobile phones
  • Seek alternative remote communication channels that will best suit discussing issues of sensitive nature and communicate clearly to the communities on the channels available. In this case branding of your CRM channel is essential to distinguish between reliable channels and fake ones
  • Trust is very important, if affected people feel they can trust us then they will gain confidence to share complaints
  • Good mapping of existing information pathways that continue to operate during the crisis is needed. This can be leveraged for complaint feedback and response mechanisms
  • Involve differently abled persons (who are 15% of the population) in the CRM process and ask them what the best accessibility is for them. How can we as humanitarian workers best cater to their needs to improve accessibility? How can we adapt the messages? How can they be involved efficiently?
  • Gender implications must be considered in CRM channels as well. A gender balance in committees and recruitment of more women call operators is encouraged