I suppose now is as good a time as any to let you in on a little humanitarian aid industry nugget that, so far as I can tell, has received zero attention from any of the major news outlets that allegedly cover the humanitarian sector: The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) and People in Aid (PIA) are merging into a single organization. Don’t take my work for it—it’s all right there on People In Aid’s website: HAP International and People In Aid to join forces to strengthen quality and accountability in the humanitarian and development sector.
And then a further announcement about the merger itself on the HAP website: HAP And People In Aid To Form The CHS Alliance.
There. The new organization will be launched in June of 2015 in Nairobi and London, with HQ sites initially in both London and Geneva. And although the deadlineapplications has passed, there was an open recruitment process for the Executive Director of the new CHS Alliance.
So, why does the CHS Alliance matter? It matters on a couple of levels. First, it’s the merger and consolidation of several major industry standard-setting organizations. It’d be like Tata taking over Range Rover (that really happened, actually), or a merger between the FAA and the TSA. Yes, of course I realize that this is not nearly as interesting as Nick Kristof’s latest book or Bill Gates drinking toilet water. Nothing about this is as headline worthy as “The Aid Industry Failed Haiti” , or “What if your humanitarian donations are making things worse?” But in terms of the implications for how we carry out humanitarian aid and make it better, the CHS and the formation of a CHS Alliance is far more important. Whether you’re a die-hard aid apologetic or committed, life-long critic, you cannot afford to no know about the CHS Alliance.
Second, it represents the harmonisation of several existing sets of standards (those standards so many thought we didn’t have), specifically People in Aid, HAP, and Sphere. From the CHS website:
The new Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) was launched in December 2014 and replaces the HAP Standard, People In Aid Code of Good Practice, and the Sphere Core Standards. The CHS aims to become the key reference framework for humanitarian standards, supporting quality and accountability in all programmes.
In a some what unwieldy system of standards and industry self-regulatory bodies, the CHS and the CHS Alliance represents an important step in the direction of a single, unified standard.
One Standard To Rule Them All
The new Core Humanitarian Standard is comprised of a set of nine commitments—broad aspirational statements about what we all believe should be the case in a humanitarian operation or relief response. For example, Commitment 1: “Communities and people affected by crisis receive assistance appropriate and relevant to their needs.”
Details about how these commitments should look like in actual practice are spelled out in an accompanying set of guidance notes and indicators. So, for example, the three performance indicators for Commitment 1, currently read:
1. Degree to which people affected by the crisis consider that the response takes account of their specific needs and culture.
2. Degree to which the assistance and protection provided correspond with assessed risks, vulnerabilities and needs.
3. Degree to which response takes account of the capacities (skills, structures and knowledge) of people requiring assistance and/or protection.
There are, then, technical guidance notes in which the performance indicators are elaborated even further. Under Commitment 1 they’re things like, you have to do evidence-based programming, collect data repeatedly, and disaggregate it.
All three original projects, as well as the new, consolidated CHS Alliance are governed by intensively inclusive processes, by which I specifically mean that there is proportional representation from the so-called “Global South” at all levels of governance on through to technical input and review. Here are links to composition of various groups within the project, meeting notes, etc.
Moreover, for the CHS—the new set of core standards—the entire world (that’d be you) are still encouraged to review and comment on the guidance notes. The primary commitments have been written. That part is done. But the guidance notes, which is the part where it goes into detail about how member organizations should be required to concretely demonstrate compliance, is still open for comment.
Here’s the open invitation to provide input. Heck, I’ll even click the links for you:
There’s a somewhat lengthy but very worthwhile FAQs document about the CHS. I’d recommend reading it.
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Perhaps in another post I’ll go into what I think aid industry standards in general, and the CHS in particular mean for those who watch, write about, and critique the humanitarian industry. For now, I’ll leave you with three main thoughts:
Dispell historical notions of aid and aid workers. Obviously I have some personal bias, here, but I don’t see how it’s possible to read the CHS itself, along with the guidance notes and indicators, and still cling to the view of this industry as out of touch or unsophisticated. You may take issue with the wording of some commitments or disagree with some of the guidance, but I challenge any pundit or critic to read the documents and then still try to make the case that we’re a bunch of clueless amateurs who are making it all up as we go. In the absence of some kind of external regulatory body, this is our attempt to improve humanitarian practice and hold ourselves accountable to an identifiable standard.
No one’s saying it’s perfect. It’s a work in prgress. It’s one step in a longer journey. But it does represent a wide swath of industry participants of all stripes. It is a very concrete move toward great accountability, transparency, and quality over all, with increasingly specific, identifiable points of compliance.
But… you’re a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic. I get it. You read all the guidance notes and you’re thinking to yourself something like, “man, some of those indicators are so broad you could run your supply chain through them.” I’ll say two things. First, sure, yep—anything can be fudged. At least in the US, our legal system thrives as it does because people fudge things that others thought were cut-and-dried. Second, the guidance notes and indicators are still open for comment. Please, do share your wisdom and insight.
The Core Humanitarian Standard establishes a starting point for inquiry. The CHS won’t immediately revolutionize aid. The CHS Alliance won’t immediately enforce compliance and boot incompetent or dodgy practitioners out the interagency response. But it does provide you, dear critic, with a starting point for your inquiry. Maybe you’re convinced that we’re just not transparent enough. As it turns out, there’s a CHS commitment that deals specifically with this. It’s number 4. “Communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them.”
You may disagree with the way that commitment is captured, but at least you have a starting point for your inquiry within a recipient community, or in your conversation with an INGO that you think is not in compliance. When you get the media relations person on the line, you can say something like, “Well, the second performance indicator under CHS commitment 4 reads, ‘Degree to which people affected by crisis are satisfied that they have access to the information they need.’, but none of the survivors in [YOUR AREA OF OPERATION] expressed satisfaction…”
See? I’m practically doing your job for you! And if the un-transparent NGO you’re talking to responds negatively, well, then, your headline has practically written itself. How convenient is that?
See the previous post: Part I: Standards
See also: Core Humanitarian Standard: Establish a Threshold or Raise the Bar?