A girl from Tacloban takes on household chores under makeshift housing A girl from Tacloban takes on household chores under makeshift housing Photo credit: Vittorio Oppizzi / Plan International
Pamati Kita: ‘Let’s Listen Together’
by Alex Jacobs January 2015

The humanitarian response to Typhoon Haiyan demonstrated that the concept of accountability to affected people (AAP) is firmly established on the agenda of humanitarian agencies.+The terminology in this field is disputed and confusing, with considerable overlap between ‘Accountability to Affected Populations’, ‘Communicating with Communities’ (CwC) and other concepts. For simplicity’s sake, this article uses the term ‘Accountability to Affected Populations’. It also showed that agencies could still benefit from better practical ways to achieve it in practice. Within the first month of the response, a number of major initiatives had been launched, including establishing an IASC AAP Coordinator position, building accountability activities into the work plan of the Humanitarian Coordinator and individual agencies deploying specialist staff and developing accountability activities.

The operating context in the Philippines created genuine opportunities for enhancing accountability to affected people. This included factors such as the very high level of mobile phone and social network usage, established and respected barangay structures and agencies’ previous experience of similar disaster responses, albeit on a smaller scale. It is unclear whether these opportunities have been fully realised. A number of obstacles restricted accountability, notably the pressure within agencies to mount largescale responses in a short time. Other obstacles included limited staff capacity, the effort that agencies had to invest in developing contextually appropriate approaches and tools, the fragmented nature of decision-making across the response and confusion between related sector-wide initiatives, including Accountability to Affected Populations, Preventing Sexual Exploitation & Abuse, Communicating with Communities and the HAP Standard. Drawing on previous experience, Plan International worked with the IASC task force on accountability to initiate a practical response to these issues. This became the Pamati Kita project.

The concept

The Pamati Kita project supports and encourages agencies to use contextually appropriate common tools and services for accountability. A concept note produced in December 2013 identified three categories of common tools and services that humanitarian agencies could use to improve the quality and accountability of their work.+Revised Concept Note: The Pakikinig Initiative. Common Services for Humanitarian Agencies to Improve Accountability Together’, 20 December 2013. This included drafts of the proposed common tools.

1. Common tools

  • A common feedback tool designed to generate broad insights into local perceptions of agencies’ work. This would be based on a short set of standard questions to generate a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data on recipients’ experience of aid, some of which could be aggregated.
  • A common methodology for community consultations, with a focus on dialogue, while also capturing some qualitative data using standard reporting formats.

2. Common services

  • A public information campaign, promoting short, simple summaries of agencies’ major commitments to local communities, along with agencies’ contact details and actions that members of the public can take if agencies fall short of those commitments.
  • A joint hotline to allow members of the public to ask questions, lodge complaints and get answers. This would provide a single means for people to address concerns to all participating agencies, through a single phone number and online contact methods.
  • Common analysis of feedback data. This would allow each agency to benefit from all the data generated by participating agencies. Agencies would be able to build up a collective picture of the response as a whole, and also compare their feedback to other agencies’.

3. Regular reports

  • Based on the combined data of participating agencies, the original concept was that the initiative would publish a regular summary report, about every two months, of what local people were saying about agencies’ work, along with responses from the agencies involved. This was intended to be promoted to a variety of important actors, including the government, donors and local media, in order to enhance transparency and accountability, as well as to support continual improvement and advocacy.

The initiative was designed to generate significant benefits for participating agencies, affected communities and other key actors. Agencies would benefit from costeffective, best practice tools and services specifically designed to enable them to meet their existing commitments in ways that were relevant to the operating context. This would reduce costs for each agency and for the response as a whole by reducing duplicative efforts to design appropriate tools. In addition, agencies would benefit from the ability to collaborate on implementing the tools (again, potentially reducing costs), and to aggregate their data, which could enable them to understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, and to compare their data in ways that generate insights for continual improvement.

Affected communities would benefit from convenient, consistent and simple ways of communicating with agencies. For instance, a joint hotline could provide community members with a single point of contact for multiple agencies. Community members would no longer need to identify which specific agency to contact for any specific service and how to contact them, reducing confusion.

Local media, government and donors would benefit from a single source of credible reports of community members’ views about the response. Collectively, this would provide important data on the quality of the response, disaggregated by implementing agency. This could inform their decisionmaking and improve their ability to hold agencies to account, helping to improve quality across the entire response.

The concept note was developed with considerable input from international agencies and specialists in the field. The tools and services were aligned with key international standards, including the Sphere Core Standards and the HAP Standard. This aimed to enhance the tools’ credibility and relevance, and their use for internal management and external accountability processes. The tools were built on established and emerging good practice from leading initiatives across the sector, and were designed to provide accessible, cost-effective and high-quality ways for agencies to meet their existing commitments.+This includes Keystone’s ‘Constituent Voice: Technical Note’, September 2014, and a wealth of material brought together by HAP, as well as specific agencies’ experience of hotlines. The approach was designed to enable collaboration, accommodating increasing numbers of agencies during the project’s lifetime rather than relying on resource-intensive and potentially exclusive coordination mechanisms. It was designed to appeal initially to major international agencies, as a pragmatic way of adding value to the response at scale, and also to be relevant and open to national agencies and smaller agencies.

Initial progress

The concept note developed into a formal partnership between Plan International, World Vision International and the International Organisation for Migration on an innovative project funded by the UK’s Department for International Development. The project’s name is Pamati Kita, ‘Let’s Listen Together’.

The initial concept was developed further in order to build on relevant work undertaken by the partners and to respond to changes in the operating context. The work has been coordinated with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and its Working Groups on AAP/CwC. These Working Groups have delivered some of the functions originally envisaged for Pamati Kita. For instance, the Community Feedback Forms have consolidated feedback from humanitarian agencies and fed it into the cluster system. Many agencies moved quickly to set up their own hotlines, complemented by independent initiatives such as Radyo Abante, a ‘humanitarian radio station’ that broadcasts programmes on the humanitarian response and invites listeners to phone in and discuss their concerns with agency staff.

The project is currently taking on the leadership of the Working Groups on AAP/CwC in Tacloban, Ormoc and Roxas, as OCHA withdraws. It is promoting a variety of accountability tools and communication materials using media including radio and comics. A training element has been added, to build capacity within humanitarian agencies on accountability and preventing sexual exploitation and abuse. It also aims to build on the IOM’s Community Response Map,+See http://philippines.communityresponsemap.org/. an online data platform to track and respond to community feedback. Alongside this, a learning component has been established to document the experience, locate it in the wider context of related efforts in the sector and identify lessons and recommendations for the future.

Commentary

This project is based on the concept that, in the early stages of a response, contextually appropriate approaches should be developed to implement international standards, and that these approaches can be used by multiple agencies, reducing costs, enhancing collaboration, improving quality and strengthening accountability. The concept has attracted a high degree of interest. If successful, it may establish practical ways to enhance the quality and accountability of humanitarian response at a sector level. It provides a practical alternative to other approaches, such as certification. It resonates with other wider initiatives in the sector, suggesting that perhaps these are ideas whose time has come.

With the engagement of major agencies and donors, there is potential to develop the approach for implementation in major responses. It could even potentially be extended to other areas, such as Sphere’s technical standards, if suitable leadership for the process of contextualisation can be established. The project is consistent with the emerging Core Humanitarian Standard.+See http://www.corehumanitarianstandard.org. It could offer a realistic way of implementing key aspects of the standard and assessing performance in relation to it.

The project has also faced practical challenges. Foremost has been the difficulty of focusing management attention on it during a major humanitarian response, and the familiar issue of staff turnover. There has been some confusion about how the project fits with the established priorities of different actors and initiatives, at cluster level, among donors and among implementing agencies. It has proved harder to retro-fit common approaches across agencies during the response than it would have been to develop them in advance, as part of the preparation for the response. Looking ahead, it appears likely that advance preparation will be crucial in taking the approach further. This would include developing key relationships and intentions, as well as practical tools. It would also include clarifying leadership and complementarity across the various initiatives of AAP, CwC and other overlapping initiatives.

Plan, World Vision and the IOM will publish our experiences of the project by May 2015. We are excited about continuing the pilot and learning from it, and hope that it can contribute to broader efforts to strengthen quality and accountability in the sector.

Alex Jacobs is Director of Programme Quality, Plan International.

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