Sphere Handbook revision off to a great start

23 February 2017 | Sphere Project

The revision of the Sphere standards started with a three-day workshop with a diverse group of humanitarian professionals driving the process.

The initial workshop with the authors and experts leading the Sphere revision this year convened some 30 humanitarians to start the drafting of the Sphere 2018 Handbook. With the framework, process and timeline set, the open phase of consultation and drafting is now starting and all Sphere users are invited to contribute.

Workshop participants were drawn from NGOs, UN agencies and the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. As experts in different areas of humanitarian assistance, they constitute the Sphere revision writing team.

Their mission over the coming months is to lead a thorough and participatory review with users of the Sphere humanitarian standards. The engagement of a diverse community of humanitarian professionals in the working and review groups will be a key support to include the voices of practitioners from around the globe.

The 31 January - 2 February workshop was hosted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva.

Sharper, smarter and easier to use in context

The next version of the Sphere Handbook will remain grounded on humanitarian principles and focused on crisis response, while acknowledging that the standards are also increasingly proving useful for preparedness and recovery.

Considering the needs of a growing range of users beyond the traditional humanitarian actors, the Handbook review will focus on maintaining its role as an authoritative source of humanitarian best practice while also focusing on accessibility.

During the workshop, Sphere's Executive Director Christine Knudsen invited the team to be bold and creative to make sure that the revised standards reflect significant changes in the humanitarian landscape as well as the agency of people affected by disaster or conflict.

Towards a new Handbook structure

The writing team discussed several ways to manage the challenge of refining universal standards while also making the information easily accessible to an increasingly diverse community of field-based practitioners. A new structure and way of presenting the standards was proposed.

It was agreed to test a new structure which simplifies key actions, indicators, thresholds and links to further guidance. This approach is designed to put the emphasis on adapting to context and to strengthen the focus on the minimum standard itself rather than the quantitative targets only.

In addition, the full integration of the Core Humanitarian Standard will allow for more explicit linkages between core commitments, accountability, protection and technical guidance.

The consolidated learning on the use of cash transfer programming and programming in urban contexts will be well integrated into the Handbook, while also ensuring a strong lens on inclusion, working with diverse actors (the military, development actors, etc.) and in protracted crises.

Workshop participants debated various approaches to strengthening the role of evidence in the development of the standards and agreed to ways to clearly document decision-making and linkages to this evidence.

Two partnerships will boost Sphere's ability to extend its reach and build the community of Sphere constituencies. Translators Without Borders will provide editing and language support as well as digital collaboration tools to the writing team. The association of Professionals in Humanitarian Action and Protection will help Sphere to carry out online surveys and webinars as part of the consultation process.

"The revision writing team faces a challenging but incredibly exciting task," says Christine Knudsen. "The expectations are big, the timeline is tight, but the depth and scope of expertise we have assembled is stunning," she adds, noting that "the writing team has hundreds if not thousands of years of combined humanitarian experience."

"The workshop allowed participants to come out as a real team, rallied behind a powerful vision: leading the way to make the next Sphere standards sharper, smarter and easier to use in context, for the benefit of the people we serve."

How to get involved

There are many ways for all those interested in contributing to the revision of the Sphere standards to get involved.

Request to be part of a review group. The writing team invites applications to join a review group. A list of chapters and thematic groups is available on the Sphere website.

Host a consultation at organisational, local, regional or community level. In-person consultation events will play a crucial role. They will gather insights on both the current version of the Handbook and the first draft version, which will be available in April.

Organisations and individuals willing to host consultations can share their plans with the Sphere secretariat. A consultation toolkit is available here.

Share your views on Drafts 1 and 2 of the new Sphere standards. Besides in-person consultations, online surveys will take place in April-June and in September-November 2017. Please consider this and "save the date (and the time)" for some serious reading and feedback.

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