The next Sphere Handbook: much more than just an update

19 July 2016 | Sphere Project

The Sphere Handbook 2011 edition word cloudA word-cloud of the Sphere Handbook 2011 edition.

More than just a revision, the next Sphere Handbook will ask what quality and accountable humanitarian assistance should look like in 10 years.

The framework for the 2018 edition of the Sphere Handbook is already clarifying the drivers of future humanitarian action. That is why the Sphere Project Board sees the forthcoming Handbook revision as an opportunity for the sector to challenge itself on the operational implications of humanitarian quality and accountability.

At its 27-28 April meeting in London, the Sphere Project Board discussed a series of preliminary studies which were commissioned to lay the ground for the forthcoming revision of the Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Humanitarian Response - a.k.a. the Sphere Handbook.

Three complementary projects informed the Board session: a scoping report on the current and future use of standards, a survey of current Handbook users and an analysis of the evidence underpinning the indicators.

A scoping report defined the main issues that the Handbook revision needs to address, including the growing use of multi-purpose cash transfers, urban preparedness and response, full integration of the Core Humanitarian Standard, support to locally-led action and even new ways for users to access digital content.

The report stressed the opportunity of using the revision process to review the Handbook's role and purpose within the wider humanitarian architecture to better serve the way the community addresses quality and accountability issues today and in the future.

A survey of current Handbook users received some 2,800 responses in less than a month and showed diverse use and application in the sector by geography, language groupings and experience levels.

More than 1,700 respondents expressed willingness to be further involved in the revision, while nearly 900 respondents supplied personal experience and qualitative feedback, volunteering their support and engagement. (A full summary of survey results will be published soon.)

Representatives from two leading research institutions - the Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance (ELRHA) initiative and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) - presented their efforts to strengthen the evidence base of the Sphere standards.

ELRHA and LSHTM are undertaking a rigorous analysis of the existing evidence that supports public health determinants in the Handbook 2011 edition as a baseline. This will be a key contribution and starting point for the consultative process to update the Sphere Handbook indicators and guidance notes in health, nutrition and WASH.

The revision process will also help identify where the Sphere Handbook needs to position standards in the future according to today's trends in the humanitarian sector. The goal is for Sphere to adapt to a changing environment and anticipate practitioners' needs over the coming years.

The process for review will be designed to be as deeply inclusive as possible, engaging a wide array of stakeholders from international and national NGOs, UN agencies and clusters, community organisations and municipal authorities, civil defense and national disaster management authorities, as well as a whole new generation of users including some who work outside the boundaries of the traditional humanitarian sector.

Deepening standards' cohesion and complementarity

The Board welcomed Cassie Dummett, newly appointed coordinator of the Global Humanitarian Standards Partnership (GHSP). An experienced humanitarian who has worked in Asia and Africa, Dummett shared the GHSP work-plan, which is focused on enabling Sphere and its companion standards to deepen their cohesion and complementarity while undertaking joint advocacy and learning activities.

Sphere companions shared updates highlighting several areas of collaboration including a coordinated presence and messaging at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

  • Read more about Sphere and the humanitarian standards discussion at the WHS here and here.

Another example of ongoing collaboration is the alignment of guidance across Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) market analysis standards and the revision process of the Minimum Economic Recovery Standards (MERS).

On 26 April, a side event to the Board meeting gathered a diverse range of specialists to discuss the role of technical standards in cash transfer programming for shelter as well as water, sanitation and hygiene promotion (WASH).

The workshop also looked at linkages between multi-purpose cash transfer programming, empowered choice of assistance by affected populations and the intersections with basic concepts in the Sphere Handbook including quality, protection, accountability and realisation of rights.

Sphere: fit for future purpose

Board members reviewed a recently commissioned study on growing the Sphere network in line with the Sphere 2020 strategy. They considered structure and governance issues which would enable the organisation to transform the community of Sphere practitioners into a vigorous and deeply connected network and global catalyst for humanitarian quality and accountability.

The Board discussed different strategic paths to move forward including a review of legal status and governance models. The decision was made to constitute Sphere as an NGO in Switzerland, evolving from a hosted project into a legal entity.

After further consultations held in May and July, this decision was confirmed and the future location of the new NGO agreed at an extraordinary Board meeting on 5 July.

Board members expressed deep gratitude to the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA), which has hosted the Sphere Project since April 2013. The current hosting agreement with ICVA will end on 31 December 2016 and changes to the current governance model will be implemented progressively with new registration.

Board members

The Sphere Board expressed its gratitude to Erik Johnson (Lutheran World Federation/ DanChurchAid), Pauliina Parhiala (ACT Alliance), John Plastow (CARE International), Greg Ramm (Save the Children) and Ian Ridley (World Vision International), who stepped down as members at the April and July 2016 meetings.

The Board welcomed six new members: Anna Garvander (Lutheran World Federation/Church of Sweden), Philippe Guiton (CARE International), Isabel Gomes (World Vision International), Sarah Kambarami (ACT Alliance), Colin Rogers (Plan International) and Maxime Vieille (Save the Children).

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