Over the last 20 years the humanitarian sector has grown into a multi-billion dollar enterprise and consequently has become increasingly professionalised. With this has come the creation of a variety of standards and accountability mechanisms to ensure that humanitarian assistance is high quality, which is especially important given that crisis affected people are often vulnerable and voiceless.Whilst the early 1990’s saw an absence of standards, the current situation may pose the opposite problem, with at least seventy standards initiatives now in existence in the humanitarian sector.
Field workers and others have experienced a challenge in combining and implementing the number of standards in an efficient, complementary, and effective way.
In a sector characterised by high turnover, the need to rapidly train new staff in the wake of disasters and a wide variety of agencies, from small community based organisations to enormous federated networks, has rendered it difficult to reliably and consistently apply the main standards. In response to the perceived confusion, lack of awareness and inconsistent application of standards, three of the leading standards initiatives (Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project) have launched a process to seek greater coherence for users of standards, in order to ultimately improve humanitarian action to people affected by disasters. This pioneering collaborative effort is called the Joint Standards Initiative (JSI) and has the potential to significantly improve quality and accountability across the sector. For more information about JSI, you can download the introduction to the Joint Standards Initiative here.
The JSI Stakeholder Consultation is a key element of the JSI process, which will generate evidence from a wide range of actors across the humanitarian sector and in turn this will shape how the process develops and inform the decisions made by the Boards of the three standards bodies on their future development. The focus of the 3 month (Dec – March) JSI Stakeholder Consultation is exploring how to achieve improved coherence through a rigorous inquiry that is consultative, open, evidence-based and responds to aid-workers’ needs.
The consultation will actively include voices from the Global South as well as NGO’s, aid workers, UN, standards bodies, donors, academics etc. Methods to be used will include surveys, individual interviews, focus group discussions and a series of conferences in regional hubs, US and Europe. An expert Advisory Group will act as the guardian of the Stakeholder Consultation, which will shape and influence the evolution of the JSI. This specially selected group consists of Board members from the three initiatives (Mamadou Ndiaye, Sphere/OFADEC; Julien Schopp, Sphere/InterAction; Joan Coyle, People in Aid/Save the Children International; Nick Guttmann, HAP/Christian Aid; Zainab Raza, HAP/CWS P/A), as well as representatives from the UN (Niels Scott, UN-OCHA), donors (Kim Peterson, Danida), SCHR Certification Review Project (Philip Tamminga) and independent members (Zia Choudhury and Manisha Thomas); all bringing with them a unique set of skills and experience. To understand the role of the Advisory Group further, you can download their Terms of Reference here and their January workplan here. Regular updates on the Advisory Group can be found on the News page: September, November.
We are conscious of high expectations that the Joint Standards Initiative could potentially change the face of humanitarian standards. It’s important to make clear that JSI as an entity is a construct of the three initiatives, which in turn have a mandate and representation from a significant part of the sector. These initiatives, supported by networks and sectors, such as SCHR and Danida, are seeking to listen carefully to views across the sector, to synthesise these views into clear recommendations and make decisions based on what the sector itself is saying they want.
A JSI Steering Group composed of Chairs and Directors/Project Manager of HAP, People In Aid and the Sphere Project are responsible for overseeing the overall JSI process as well as developing a final agreement to be approved by their respective governing Boards by next May 2013. They will also be addressing the strategic implications of any recommended changes, such as: co-habitation, governing Boards, standards, certification, organisational change etc. Chairing of the Group is on a 6 month rotating basis and the Steering Group has been meeting monthly since July 2011.
Whilst the initiatives acknowledge that standards and accountability mechanisms are not the panacea for improving organisational performance, they contend that better standards will contribute to better humanitarian response.Standards need to be robust and comprehensive, yet simple and user-friendly. Coherent, easy-to-use standards are more likely to be put into practice and hence to make a difference in the lives of conflict and disaster-affected people. The Joint Standards Initiative is about contributing to a standards system which is more straightforward for users and agencies.
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