What does coherence in humanitarian standards look like?

28 July 2016 | Sphere Project

Asociación Global de Normas Humanitarias

By Cassie Dummett (*)

Everyone would agree that humanitarian standards need to be coherent, but do we agree on what that means?

At a basic level, coherence means that practitioners are able to move easily between inter-related sets of standards. Increasing coherence among humanitarian standards is one of the goals of the Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership.

The Partnership aims to improve links between standards, increase cross-references, eliminate inconsistencies, work across sectors and create single points of access. The objective is to improve the end-user's experience, helping humanitarians to deliver higher quality protection and assistance in a more accountable manner.

Humanitarian standards can leverage huge power by working together. They build on a common foundation of the Humanitarian Charter, the Protection Principles, the Core Humanitarian Standard; and they cover multiple sectors with technical minimum standards, key actions, indicators, guidance notes and resources. But the volume of information involved can be overwhelming and users often stick to what they know.

A recent webinar organised by the Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership gave examples of how people can apply different sets of standards within one project, demonstrating how core standards can be used with sectoral guidance and market analysis standards.

A livelihoods project may start with a food security assessment, conducted in line with the Sphere standard on assessing food security.

If it identifies livestock as the primary source of food and income for vulnerable households, it will use the Livestock in Emergencies Standards and Guidelines (LEGS) on the provision of livestock as well as the standards on feed supplies, provision of water and much more. It may refer back to the Sphere water and sanitation standards to look into issues of safe household drainage and vector control.

If a market-based approach to the provision of livestock is being considered, the Minimum Requirements for Market Analysis developed by the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) provide standards on how to plan a market assessment, collect and analyse data.

In an education project working with crisis-affected children, the Minimum Standards for Education can be used to assess and design an intervention to provide access to quality and relevant education (Education Standard 1 Equal Access) and to consider the broader environment for learning. This may include the Sphere standards on water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion as well as shelter for the design of school latrines and construction of facilities.

The Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action related to the prevention and response to abuse and exploitation would be essential to ensure cooperation between child protection and education teams and programmes.

And all of these projects will use the Core Humanitarian Standard to ensure the project is appropriate, effective and timely, accountable to the people affected by crisis, to ensure staff are competent and well-managed and that resources are managed efficiently and ethically.

Building coherence into standards

Nisha Singh, Senior Programme Director at the Seep Network, sees the current revision of the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS), which is to be completed by the end of 2016, as an opportunity to improve coherence among standards as well as the end-user experience.

The MERS revision will incorporate lessons learned and best practice and update the standards in line with trends and industry advances. The revised standards focus on market systems development and the use of market facilitation and adaptive management strategies.

The revision will also include guidance on cash transfers and digital payments, mainstream the focus on internally displaced and refugee populations and have disaster risk reduction and resilience as a cross-cutting theme. Each section of the revised MERS will reference other standards.

Other upcoming revision processes, like that of the Sphere Handbook which is to take place in 2016-17, will be additional opportunities to continue building greater cross-linkages in an integrated approach across the standards partners.

Watch this space to find out more!

(*) Cassie Dummett is Coordinator of the Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership.

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