In September 1996, a number of InterAction member agencies active in emergency response signed the NGO Field Cooperation Protocol [see issue 7 of the newsletter]. The protocol, a key element of InterActions ongoing efforts to enhance disaster response by NGOs, committed signatories to try to reach consensus on 37 frequently contentious or disruptive issues. By signing the protocol, members pledged to consult with other NGOs and partners on issues they were likely to face in situations of crisis. Among the 37 subject areas identified for consultation were:
- establishment of a forum for NGO internal consultation and interface with other disaster response participants
- relations with local authorities
- local employment practices
- media relations
- security arrangements
- relations with indigenous NGOs
- NGOmilitary relations
- NGOUN relations
- information sharing on project selection
- adoption of socioeconomic program approaches
In April 1998, InterAction contracted a consultant to evaluate the protocol. Specifically, the consultant was asked to determine the extent to which the NGO Field Cooperation Protocol is being implemented by signatory agencies and to determine the lessons learned by signatory agency headquarters personnel in their efforts to ensure that field staff undertake efforts at consensus-building. A report with recommendations in the following categories was prepared:
- recommendations for modifications of the protocol to enhance its usefulness to field personnel
- recommendations for internal agency measures which would increase the extent of the protocols use by signatory agencies
- recommendations for field procedures and structures to facilitate achievement of consensus among signatory and other agency personnel
In order to carry out this mandate more than 35 individuals with expertise in NGO cooperation during emergencies were interviewed. These 35 represented signatory NGO managers and staff, staff of indigenous NGOs, bilateral donors, and UN agencies. The interviews were conducted in the US and in Liberia. Liberia was selected because a number of InterAction members and other international NGOs were working there, because NGOs had encountered serious coordination challenges during the conflict in Liberia, and because a substantial coordination system among NGOs had evolved in Monrovia. Among the findings were:
- The NGO Field Cooperation Protocol has not, in general, been systematically promoted by the headquarters of signatory NGOs.
- NGO coordination efforts, properly structured, can move beyond collaboration on administrative and logistics issues to cover major programme and advocacy issues.
- Highly structured NGO coordination mechanisms, like those established in Liberia, can enhance cooperation both among NGOs and with partners.
- Reaching consensus on the protocols list of issues potentially requires significant trade-offs for field-based NGO managers, for example between security issues and local NGO participation.
- Serious partnerships with indigenous NGOs, especially during disaster response, require focused efforts.
- The protocol, as currently written, ignores the important role of donor agencies.
- Field-based NGO managers must have more guidance from headquarters on how far they can go in supporting cooperation.
- Field-based NGO managers want to know how to fund coordination mechanisms.
Field personnel interviewed for the assessment are not aware of the protocol.
These findings, elaborated in some detail in the evaluation document, generate six recommendations for action by InterAction and/or member agencies. The six recommendations and next steps suggested in the evaluation are:
- The headquarters of signatory agencies must do more to promote the NGO Field Cooperation Protocol.
- The protocol should emphasise more strongly the importance of establishing structured coordination mechanisms.
- InterAction and signatory agencies should examine techniques to jumpstart NGO colloboration in emergencies.
- InterAction and signatory agencies should supplement the protocol with a succinct summary of best practices in field-based cooperation.
- The protocol document itself should be revised to include (1) advocacy and (2) relations with donors among its topics.
- InterAction should engage OFDA and other donor agencies in discussions on what those agencies can do to enhance implementation of the protocol, including, possibly, funding and inclusion in grant guidelines.
InterAction was disappointed but not surprised by the finding that field workers were unfamiliar with the protocol. While the motive and spirit which prompted its development are evident in the enhanced NGO cooperation which has taken place in recent years in Liberia, Sierre Leone, Kosovo, North Korea and other disaster sites, it is evident from anecdotal reports that more needs to be done to put the protocol into practice.
The evaluator briefed InterActions Disaster Response Committee at its semiannual plenary meeting on 3 December 1998. His presentation was followed by a discussion on measures to be taken to try to improve the protocol, along the lines of the recommendations, and to make the protocol better known within agencies and among field staff.
InterAction remains committed to implementation of the protocol. Currently its Disaster Response Committee is reviewing how to encourage this process among the membership. Specific measures will be discussed by the committee at its next plenary meeting on 26 April 1999.
For a copy of the NGO Field Cooperation Protocol contact: