Accountability to Disaster-Affected Populations: A peer review by the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response | Accountability | Value (Ethics)

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The Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) is an alliance of major international humanitarian organisations aiming to support increased quality, accountability and learning within the humanitarian sector. To this end it used a Peer Review process to strengthen and deepen efforts that demonstrate organisations’ Accountability to Disaster-Affected Populations. This paper provides an overview of some of the key lessons that emerged.
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     Accountability to Disaster-Affected Populations    A Peer Review by the Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response  An Overview of Lessons Learned 14 January 2010   Contents Executive Summary..................................................................................................................................................2 1. Purpose and Background....................................................................................................................................5 2. What is accountability?........................................................................................................................................5 3. Accountability in Practice – Lessons.................................................................................................................7 4. Conclusions.........................................................................................................................................................15  Annex: The Peer Review Methodology and Lessons about the Process.......................................................17  This paper is endorsed by the SCHR Principals. It is the product of close collaboration and collective thinking. In particular the following are acknowledged for their specific contribution: Lola Gostelow (SCHR peer review facilitator); Jock Baker (Care); Maryssa Camaddo (LWF); Alistair Dutton (Caritas Internationalis); Meri Ghorkhmazyan (Save the Children); Josse Gillijns (IFRC); Johanna Grombach-Wagner (ICRC); Charles-Antoine Hofmann (SCHR); Erik Johnson (ACT); Eva von Oelreich (SCHR); José Riera (UNHCR); Virginia Vaughn (consultant); Stephen Wainwright (IFRC); Robert White (ACT); Yo Winder (Oxfam).   1  Executive Summary  The Steering Committee for Humanitarian Response (SCHR) is an alliance of major international humanitarian organisations aiming to support increased quality, accountability and learning within the humanitarian sector. To this end it used a Peer Review process to strengthen and deepen efforts that demonstrate organisations’ Accountability to Disaster-Affected Populations. This paper provides an overview of some of the key lessons that emerged. Given the specific focus on learning of this peer review, a common definition of accountability towards affected populations was not a prerequisite. Instead, self-assessments undertaken at country and central (headquarters) levels provided the basis for the conversations held with members of affected communities, staff, member organisations and their partner agencies. On the basis of these conversations, plus review of core documents from each organisation, reports were written by inter-agency review teams (supported by external facilitators) that summarised key findings, highlighted good practices and recommended steps that could be taken to further strengthen each organisation’s accountability towards affected persons. Organisations then developed an action-plan in response, which is reviewed annually. It is anticipated that it is in these action plans that the real impact of the peer review  will be seen – putting the learning into practice.  Although each organisation embarked on the peer review from a different starting position, there are a number of lessons that resonate with all. Firstly, several aspects of accountability emerged as common for the 9 organisations:  Acknowledging, making visible and diminishing the power imbalance between organisations and disaster-affected persons Involving affected persons meaningfully in key decisions and processes that influence their lives Building relationships with affected persons that are characterised by dignity and respect Sharing relevant information and communicating transparently (providing feedback to disaster-affected persons as well as consulting them) Behaving with integrity, keeping to commitments made and engendering trust.  What follows are those issues that came up time and again for either all or a large majority of the nine involved, and constitute the common lessons of the peer review.  Accountability based on values.    All 9 organisations anchor their stated commitment to accountability towards disaster-affected persons to core organisational values or principles.  The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief includes several principles that are directly relevant to accountability towards disaster-affected populations. Overall, though, the Code of Conduct was little-known, and was often confused  with internal staff codes of conduct. However, there were also examples where the Code’s provisions had been ‘internalised’ through core organisational policies. In such cases, staff were often aware of key principles of the Code without being able to attribute these to the Code of Conduct per se. Living out values. But values are not enough. Organisations need to demonstrate that they value accountability - first through strong leadership commitment, and second by valuing and rewarding accountable approaches, both at programme level (i.e. quality) and with individual staff (i.e. performance). Accountability is demonstrated most strongly when the values of individual staff resonate  with the values of the organisation.   Synergy can be achieved when the individual feels able to pursue their personal convictions because these are reinforced and valued by the organisation. In the end, accountability is about living out values such as compassion and respect for humanity. 2   Accountability needs to be managed.  The peer review progressively revealed the understanding that accountability towards disaster-affected populations as being about approaches to work and not a menu of “accountability activities”. Accountability is more a process than an end-state. Strong and effective management is key to creating the right institutional environment (a ‘culture of accountability’) where such processes are valued and where continuous striving for improvement and learning is supported..  Accountability has institutional and individual dimensions.  Learning from all organisations identified that a systems approach to accountability is insufficient. It only takes an organisation so far down the road to BEING more accountable. Accountability is best addressed by inserting and embedding it in existing procedures and tools – to make it part of how an organisation works in all its facets, not just programming. Changing the relationship with affected groups.  Accountability cannot be pursued as a project.  Accountability to disaster-affected persons requires organisations to work differently rather than do different things. It is about pursuing a process which changes the nature of the relationship with affected groups rather than achieving an end-state of accountability.  Accountability to all persons of concern.  One of the earliest lessons through the process was that ‘accountability to disaster-affected persons’ cannot be isolated from an organisation’s accountability to the numerous other population groups it seeks to serve. This requires joining up the thinking, learning and practices across the development and disaster-response domains, for it goes to the core of an organisation and the people it recruits and supports to do its work. Modelling accountability internally.  Accountability towards affected persons is possible when the organisation is accountable to its own staff and members. Organisational cultures that tolerate abuse of power by management, or that fail to provide a trusted means of bringing grievances to the fore, are likely to undermine and impede efforts to promote accountability to affected communities. Seeking out feedback and complaints. Feedback and complaints mechanisms reduce the power disparity between the organisation-as-provider and individual-as-recipient. These need to be designed  with affected groups, so that they can build on existing processes and be appropriate to the context. Proactive efforts are needed to capture the perspectives of all sub-groups of a population.  Timely and quality responses.  The humanitarian imperative does not imply that speed is more important than accountability. The hardest aspect of accountability to disaster-affected persons seems to be managing the tensions between the timeliness and the quality of a response. Building relationships and capacities in advance of crises.  Accountability as a process needs to be embedded in all phases of programming, especially emergency preparedness. In order to be accountable during an emergency response, the necessary foundations of dialogue, understanding and staff skills need to be laid during the preparedness stage.   Maximising the involvement of affected groups.  ‘Participation’ is rarely fully realised. Participation of affected persons tends to be extractive and limited to assessment processes. Much less effort is made to provide affected populations with feedback. Meaningful participation emerges from the two-way dialogue that characterises feedback procedures. It requires that affected persons are involved in key decision-making, including validating operational successes and identifying failures. Being transparent.  Though transparency is understood as a dimension of accountability, organisations find it challenging. A common sense developed through the PR was that information should be shared unless there is a good reason not to, which would lead to stronger trust between organisations and affected groups. 3  Being fair and responsible with partners.  Accountability cannot be delegated to partners. ‘Indirect accountability’ is no accountability in practice, without a clear and agreed demarcation of roles and responsibilities which are then monitored. Partners need to be involved in any accountability processes, should be held accountable for their actions and should trust the partnership relationship enough to share concerns heard from communities. Investing in accountability . Specific resources are required for the staff time, the development of staff skills and specific processes (such as complaints-handling). Organisations need to plan for such costs and allocate resources accordingly, so that accountable processes feature throughout the project cycle.  Advocating for accountability.  Donors are not consistent in respecting commitments made as ‘good humanitarian donors’ or in the Paris Declaration 1 , and their stringent reporting requirements are often felt to distract and detract from an organisation’s ability to pursue accountability towards affected persons. This is a potential area for joint advocacy. Conclusions may be premature, for the lessons of the peer review process are still being learned and applied; and for some this may continue over a protracted period when the institutional environment becomes more conducive to following up in a meaningful way. Some of the organisations involved understand not only the importance of accountability to disaster-affected populations, but also its implications: that accountability requires organisations to change the  way they work, by creating a different relationship with persons of concern where the aim is to diminish the power disparity between them. Learning from the peer review points to the need for attention to both policies/systems and attitudes/behaviours. More generally, the term ‘accountability’ is not well-understood amongst staff of participating organisations, particularly at the level of country programmes. Moreover, the term itself can frequently block individuals’ understanding, so that accountability is kept at a distance, as policy-level rhetoric rather than a responsibility that needs to be acted upon. This points to the need for incremental and practical guidance on how organisations can realise their accountability to disaster-affected persons – such as through complaint mechanisms; or the provision of feedback to disaster-affected persons on key decisions or learning; or their involvement in such stages. Partnership and membership relations pose specific challenges to promoting and ensuring accountability to disaster-affected persons. There is an inherent tension between on the one hand, working in a relationship based on trust and mutual respect, and on the other, working to ensure that the relationship results in a quality (accountable) response. Control and trust are often approached as competing concerns, yet examples demonstrate that trust can be built on shared control. Individual staff make it possible for organisations to realise their responsibility and commitment to accountability towards affected populations. It is perhaps on their personal commitment and drive that accountability to disaster-affected persons rests most securely. 1  Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. Ownership, harmonisation, alignment, results and mutual accountability. March 2005.   http://www.google.co.uk/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=paris+declaration+2005&meta=&aq=f&oq = 4
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