Objective 2.1 – Accountable Humanitarian Coordination Leaders

Humanitarian reform, initiated over five years ago, focused on improving predictability, accountability and partnership in the management of humanitarian crises. The coordination architecture is now firmly in place allowing OCHA and its partners to focus on humanitarian system performance. Large-scale humanitarian operations in Haiti and Pakistan and the release of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Cluster Evaluation Phase II report (see related case study) have provided the system with better evidence of and new impetus to implement lessons learnt and ensure more accountable humanitarian leadership.

OCHA and its partners have agreed on activities to imple­ment the cluster evaluation’s proposed recommendations. These activities include further enhancement of the coordination system, filling critical normative gaps, and dissemination and training on existing guidance. This involves producing guidance on inter-cluster coordination, the role of clusters in transition, and how clusters work with pooled funds, integrated missions and national authorities. OCHA will work with partners to develop and roll out this guidance, which, along with previously endorsed IASC guidance, will provide the basis to assess performance and define accountabilities.

OCHA will develop an overarching framework to strengthen accountability of humanitarian coordination leaders and Humanitarian Country Teams (HCTs). At the global, regional and country level, OCHA will lead efforts to benchmark performance for humanitarian leaders. With the concurrence of OCHA’s partners, accountability will subsequently be extended to include humanitarian actors at all levels.

Support will be provided to enable Resident Coordinators and Humanitarian Coordinators (RCs/HCs) to monitor the performance of clusters and cluster lead agencies. OCHA will help finalize a tracking tool to identify where performance needs to be improved. OCHA will strengthen the way it holds HCs accountable through more stringent monitoring of the ERC-HC compacts and more regular interaction. OCHA will also work with partners to review its own performance against clear benchmarks.

OCHA has continued strengthening the humanitarian coordination leadership function, whether performed by RCs, HCs or Deputy Humanitarian Coordinators (DHCs). Greater consultation with the IASC membership on HC and DHC designations has been achieved through an IASC HC Panel comprising six United Nations and six non-United Nations Emergency Directors. This allows for IASC consultation on the most suitable HC model and candidate when a new HC/DHC function is established or becomes vacant.

In 2011, OCHA will focus on four tracks to strengthen HC leadership: updating existing and developing new guidance on the humanitarian coordination leadership function; enhancing the knowledge and skills of HCs and HC Pool members; increasing the HC Pool to ensure it reaches optimal size and is effectively utilized; and improving the way humanitarian coordination leaders are supported and managed.

To address performance issues in priority countries, the IASC Task Team on Coordination deployed inter-cluster support missions, at the request of HCTs. Missions to Colombia, Nepal and Pakistan supported HCTs in identifying coordination challenges and developing inter-agency plans to address them. In 2011, OCHA will participate in five planned global cluster missions to provide country-specific support.

Accountability towards partners will also be supported through OCHA’s work on the Global Humanitarian Platform’s initiative on “providers of first resort” emphasizing the role of local NGOs and communities in emergency preparedness and response. OCHA will support country-level studies to collect evidence of local NGOs’ impact as first responders and how their efforts can be further integrated and strengthened.

View Key Outputs and Indicators (PDF, 72kb)

The Cluster Evaluation Phase 2: Findings and Next Steps

When the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) introduced the cluster approach as part of humanitarian reform in 2005, it also requested an evaluation of its implementation. The evaluation was carried out in two phases. Phase 1, finalized in 2007, focused on processes related to implementation. Phase 2 focused on the outcome of the cluster approach on improving humanitarian assistance. The Phase 2 evaluation comprises six country reports and one global synthesis report.

Over two years, an independent team of eight experts visited Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Myanmar, the occupied Palestinian territory and Uganda. They analysed the implementation and performance of each cluster at the country level based on a common evaluation framework. The analysis across these diverse countries helped identify common findings, which resulted in the comprehensive overview found in the global synthesis report.

OCHA managed the evaluation process with the support of a multi-agency steering group and bilateral donors (Belgium, Canada, the European Commission, Norway and the United Kingdom). Funding was provided by Germany, the European Commission, Belgium and Finland.

Findings and Recommendations
The evaluation team leader, Dr. Julia Steets, explained: “Implementing the cluster approach has required a pretty significant investment of resources, not only financial resources but also effort and people’s time. But this investment is beginning to pay off.”

In all six countries evaluated, clusters have helped to improve the coverage of humanitarian needs, identify gaps in the response, reduce duplications and provide more predictable leadership.

  • In DRC, leadership was strengthened through the designation of cluster leads for all sectors at the national and provincial levels, and the clear definition of lead agencies’ responsibilities.
  • In Uganda, almost all interviewees emphasized that the introduction of the cluster approach had strengthened relationships between United Nations agencies and international NGOs or international organizations.
  • In Haiti, the clusters often assumed the role of mediator between different stakeholders (NGOs, the Government and United Nations agencies), helping to resolve conflicts and improve communication.
  • In Myanmar, clusters defined common cluster strategies and workplans, and worked to develop standards with the Government.
  • Key challenges of the cluster approach include poor cluster management and facilitation, exclusion of local actors, potential conflicts with national coordination efforts, and limited integration of cross-cutting issues.
Effective coordination is undermined by the lack of clear guidance on activation and exit strategies for clusters, and on how clusters should interact with financing mechanisms and integrated missions.
The evaluation team made the following six recommendations to improve and fully benefit from the cluster approach:
  1. Identify existing preparedness, response and coordination mechanisms and capacities, and complement them where appropriate.
  2. Strengthen cluster management and implementation modalities.
  3. Strengthen the quality of humanitarian response in cluster operations and activities.
  4. Increase resources for the cluster approach at the local level.
  5. Provide sufficient funding and define adequate ways for linking clusters and financing mechanisms.
  6. Resolve outstanding policy issues at the global level.

Next Steps
As Dr. Steets explained: “These recommendations must be implemented as soon as possible in order to realize the potential of the cluster approach.” The IASC is now focusing on this. During the IASC Working Group meeting in April 2010, it was agreed that a Task Team on the Cluster Approach be established, initially for one year. Its immediate priority is to develop a plan to address the recommendations. The plan will identify the main actors and the action needed to implement the recommendations within a set time frame.

In the meantime, OCHA has used the evaluation findings to inform its 2011 planning. It will focus on strengthening system-wide accountability and honing its inter-cluster role. It will also facilitate the resolution of remaining normative issues on clusters working with national actors and in integrated settings.

Link to the reports and a short video