Sphere Board sets future course of action, elects new leadership

14 December 2015 | Sphere Project

Cash in PakistanThe Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) has joined the Sphere companion standards family. Photo: Ali Hassan, in the village of Noor Muhammad, Pakistan, holds up a cheque he has just received from Oxfam for work he has done in his village. © Sam Tarling

Meeting in Geneva in mid-November, the Sphere Project Board of directors welcomed a new member to the Sphere companion standards family and endorsed moving ahead with the Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership. They also elected new officers and gave the green light for the full integration of the Core Humanitarian Standard with its indicators and guidance notes into the Sphere Handbook..

The Sphere Board granted companion status to the Minimum requirements for market analysis in emergencies developed by the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP). As the fifth initiative to join the Sphere companion family, CaLP's minimum requirements cut across the existing sectors and provide clear technical guidance.

The minimum requirements have been developed on the understanding that market assessments should guide humanitarian response and programme design. They aim to answer the question of what is the minimum level of market analysis required at various stages of the project cycle.

The requirements limit themselves to the issues that are key to market assessments and have been developed with a view to catering to a wide range of possible interventions.

The Cash Learning Partnership gathers humanitarian actors engaged in policy, practice and research within cash transfer programming. Its community of practice includes over 150 organisations and more than 5,000 individuals in the humanitarian sector.

In the future, CaLP and the Sphere Project will work on a second, revised version of the minimum requirement with a broader multi-sectoral technical scope. The goal will be to develop a set of standards on emergency markets and cash transfer programming across the project cycle that would fit better into the current Sphere standards structure.

Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership moves ahead

The Sphere Board also endorsed the creation of a Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership.

The purpose of the partnership is to strengthen the promotion of principled, evidence-based humanitarian response. By better coordinating their action and through enhanced mutual learning and joint advocacy, the humanitarian-setting initiatives involved will be able to build greater ownership by individuals, communities and organisations.

The partnership also intends to improve and further develop consistent standards models and approaches in order to continue building greater coherence and compatibility amongst humanitarian standards.

The decision to move ahead was based on the recommendation made by the current Sphere companion standards and the support of other partners, as well as the findings of a scoping study that showed widespread support for the proposed partnership among humanitarian practitioners.

During the session, three Sphere companion standards shared updates on their activities. From the dynamic dissemination of the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action to the training of trainers on the second edition of the Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards to the revision process being initiated by the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards, the updates offered a exciting overview of this dynamic field.

CaLP, the newest member of the Sphere companions family, shared information on their plans for institutional development.

Also participating in the session, the Gender-based Violence Area of Responsibility of the Global Protection Cluster reported that the recently revised Guidelines for Integrating Gender-based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action are fully aligned with the Sphere Handbook.

The Sphere Handbook was also the reference point at the outset of the development of the recently launched Minimum Standards for Age and Disability Inclusion in Humanitarian Action, reported the Age and Disability Capacity-Building (ADCAP) programme led by HelpAge International.

The participation of these standards-setting initiatives offered a crucial contribution as they all voiced interest in the partnership and see value in building coherence, cross-reference and advocacy. The CHS Alliance was also invited to participate and present, but were unable to join due to a scheduling conflict.

An additional stream of support came from a scoping study that gathered the views of more than 460 practitioners who work with humanitarian standards and nearly 40 key informants.

They suggested that the partnership focus on supporting joint advocacy efforts to influence government and other actors and on coordinated implementation of standards in the field. Other priorities are joint dissemination and training, knowledge management and field research and documentation.

For standards promoters, it is important to have a coherent and relevant body of standards across multiple sectors of humanitarian work. They expect the partnership to increase the visibility of quality and accountability work.

In its initial phase, a part-time coordinator will be hired to develop and clarify the vision and objectives of the partnership. The position will be hosted by Sphere but funded collectively by the founding partners.

Consultation on the Sphere network's scope and concept

Board members dedicated a session to a discussion of steps currently being taken towards achieving the strategic priority of consolidating Sphere into a vigorous, deeply connected network of practitioners and organisations that will act as a global catalyst for humanitarian quality and accountability.

They shared their expectations and insights and reflected on the opportunities and challenges currently offered by the sector for implementing humanitarian standards.

A study is being carried out on the nature and scope of the network. Key stakeholders are involved through interviews and an online survey that was responded by 900 humanitarian practitioners.

The Board will discuss the findings of the study, which will also review the current governance model, at an extraordinary meeting in March 2016.

Core Humanitarian Standard replaces the Core Standards chapter of the Sphere Handbook

The Sphere Project Board welcomed the recently released set of guidance notes and indicators that completed the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS). The Board considered that with its indicators and guidance notes, the CHS now meets the requirements to definitively replace the Core Standards chapter of the Sphere Handbook.

The CHS guidance notes and indicators are the result of a broad consultation involving numerous humanitarian organisations and individuals, including Sphere practitioners, who tested them in their work both in the field and at headquarters level.

The Sphere Board had already endorsed the CHS Nine Commitments, Quality Criteria, Key Actions and Organisational Responsibilities at its November 2014 meeting in New Delhi, anticipating the full standard that was going to be completed with the indicators and guidance notes.

The evidence-based key indicators and guidance notes now available are a crucial step to making the CHS consistent with the Sphere Handbook structure.

Full integration of the CHS into the printed versions of the Handbook will take place during the next Handbook revision process. In the meantime, specific tools currently under development will help Sphere practitioners transition from working with the Handbook Core Standards to doing so with the CHS. These tools will include a training module and interim guidance on how to link the CHS with the Handbook sectoral standards.

New Board officers and members

RedR UK CEO Martin McCann was elected Chair of the Sphere Project Board. McCann has over three decades of experience in both international development and humanitarian work. He joined the Sphere Board in June 2012.

The Board elected Julien Schopp as Vice Chair. Schopp is the Director of Humanitarian Practice at InterAction. He has worked in the humanitarian sector for nearly 20 years and joined the Sphere Board in 2012.

The Board expressed its gratitude to Unni Krishnan from Plan International, who concluded his term as Chair at this meeting as well as to Carsten Völz, who stepped down as Vice Chair earlier this year as he ended his work relationship with Oxfam International.

Barbara Mineo, Humanitarian Director of Oxfam Intermon was welcomed as a new Board member. She replaces Carsten Völz.

Roundtable on principles and effectiveness

On 18 November, Board members attended a roundtable on Humanitarian Principles and Aid Effectiveness: Applying the principles and standards in the field. The presentations and discussion focused on how humanitarian practitioners and organisations use the principles and standards to guide decisions in some of the most difficult operating environments. 

Jointly hosted by the Swiss Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office and the Sphere Project, the roundtable was developed as an event in the cycle of conferences on principles guiding humanitarian action initiated by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

World Vision International and CARE International hosted the meeting of the Board, whose members had the opportunity to meet up with CHS Alliance staff at an informal reception.

Board members bade a warm farewell to Colette Menoud who, as Sphere finances and administration assistant, supported the work of the Sphere Project office for three years and welcomed her successor, Loredana Serban, into the team.

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