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The New Way of Working

10 Apr 2017


The volume, cost and length of humanitarian assistance over the past 10 years has grown dramatically, mainly due to the protracted nature of crises. For example, inter-agency humanitarian appeals now last an average of seven years, and the size of appeals has increased nearly 400 per cent in the last decade. This trend has given new urgency to the long-standing discussion around better connectivity between humanitarian and development efforts. At the same time, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out not just to meet needs, but to reduce risk, vulnerability and overall levels of need, providing a reference frame for humanitarian and development actors to contribute to the common vision of a future in which no one is left behind.

Against this backdrop, the largest number of stakeholders at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) identified the need to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus and to overcome long-standing attitudinal, institutional and funding obstacles. Nothing should undermine the commitment to principled humanitarian action, especially in situations of armed conflict, but there is, at the same time, a shared moral imperative of preventing crises and sustainably reducing people’s levels of humanitarian need, a task that requires the pursuit of collective outcomes across silos.

This notion of “collective outcomes” has been placed at the centre of the commitment to the New Way of Working, summarized in the Commitment to Action signed by the Secretary-General and nine UN Principals at the WHS, and endorsed by the World Bank and others. Transcending the humanitarian-development divide by working to collective outcomes was also widely supported by donors, NGOs, crisis-affected States and others, and it received more commitments at the WHS than any other area. The New Way of Working frames the work of development and humanitarian actors, along with national and local counterparts, in support of collective outcomes that reduce risk and vulnerability and serve as instalments towards achieving the SDGs.

From identifying to achieving collective outcomes*
Conduct a Common Country Analysis by drawing on the Humanitarian Needs Overview and other key risk and vulnerability analyses that are available to achieve a more targeted understanding of vulnerability at household and community levels, as well as local capacities to address them
Define UNDAF or other national framework strategic priority areas for vulnerability reduction on key areas of risk and vulnerability. Where possible, link to national SDG targets 
Identify transformative but realistic, concrete, measurable reductions in levels of need, risk and vulnerability that humanitarian and development actors can adopt as “collective outcomes” 
Propose and support processes to align agency-specific projects and work-plans to support the achievement of the collective outcomes 
Coordinate resource mobilization for these collective outcomes (ensure short - medium - long-term interventions are predictably financed with a diverse set of financing tools over a 3-5 year period) 

While the application of the New Way of Working will vary based on context, the steps above provide a basic example of how collective outcomes can be set and met in dynamic contexts.

Ending needs by reducing risks and vulnerability is now a shared vision, under the SDG umbrella, that transcends this decades-old divide. The New Way of Working offers a concrete, doable and measurable path forward. The changes required to make this approach work are institutionally and financially complex and will need time to operationalize. However, the reductions in risk and vulnerability will improve the lives of the most vulnerable people, and they are essential to ensuring that development progress is accessible to all communities, including those affected by crises.

This approach is highly context specific. Humanitarian principles are immutable and must always guide humanitarian action and be respected. At the same time, respect for humanitarian principles and better coordination with a variety of actors are not mutually exclusive, and humanitarian action can be undertaken in a way that can contribute towards achieving the SDGs. Determining whether humanitarian principles are at risk will require highly context-specific, pragmatic decisions to inform the best approach to increase coherence between development and humanitarian efforts.

OCHA is working with UNDP and other partners, including donors, to advance the policy, operational and financial shifts required to enable the New Way of Working, particularly across recurrent and protracted crises.