The People in Aid Code: Measuring Progress
by Sara Davidson, People in Aid June 2003

The People in Aid Code (see issue 6) has progressed significantly since its publication by the RRN in 1997. Now reprinted, it has been translated into French and Spanish, and a Rome-based group of agencies recently produced an Italian version. The Code was voted ‘most stimulating Network Paper’ by readers of the RRN in 1998.

But the People in Aid Code is more than just a reference document. Back in 1997, 11 NGOs from the UK and Ireland made a commitment to test it in the field and a three-year trial started.

The Code in practice

Each pilot agency was free to decide where it tested the code, and in 1999 the agencies were asked to review progress to date. Nine responded to the challenge. In an interim progress report, pilot managers and teams described what their agency was doing to implement the code’s seven principles. Many added evidence to back their reports including comments – both complimentary and critical – from field staff. Finally, plans for improvements to fill any gaps were described.

Findings from individual ‘pilots’ are included in a joint review, Measure For Measure: A progress report by agencies piloting the People In Aid Code 1997-99. Because different agencies used different reporting formats, comparison was sometimes hard. However, for the purposes of the synthesis report a group ‘score’, based on how many described each activity underway, was agreed.

Measure For Measure found that over half the pilot agencies could describe in detail how they fulfilled Principles 1 to 3 on corporate strategy, policy, and fairness and effectiveness. All had appointed a pilot project manager, for example. Nine reported on allocation of resources to meet staff training and development needs. Just over half said they measured field staff recruitment against targets that reflect concern for racial or gender equality.

Fewer than half, however, described in detail how they measured up to Principles 4 to 7 on consultation, projects, training, and safety and security. Few limited staff working hours in the field. Surprisingly for a sector dominated by concern for human rights, few admitted trade union or staff association representatives into consultation processes. Least progress had been made on safety-record keeping. Only one agency indicated that records of work-related accidents, injuries and fatalities were systematically maintained and used to help reduce future risk.

It was generally acknowledged that the provisions of Principle 7 had often been the sole responsibility of field managers or partner agencies, rather than a corporate responsibility. Comments from staff, however, illustrated the different approaches to personnel security in the field. In one agency’s programme: ‘[Staff security] is reviewed monthly at scheduled staff meetings, or earlier in case of emergency incident.’ But in another’s: ‘Only when we were in the field and evacuation became a possibility [did we receive any information about what to do].’

Some outcomes

Most pilot agencies plan to have a more proactive approach to safety and security in future. Some have begun by, for example, raising field staff insurance levels following concern voiced in RRN and a review by People In Aid in 1997/98. Others have contributed to the People In Aid/InterHealth brochure Prevent Accidents! or plan to add health and safety to security and personal health briefings.

An issue for all agencies was how to communicate the lessons learned with colleagues, partner agencies and stakeholder groups. This meant advocacy by these organisations. British Red Cross and Tearfund, for example, saw an opportunity for direct dialogue and advocacy about the Code with ‘partner’ agencies in other countries. International Health Exchange produced a brochure, Rights & Wrongs for British expatriate field staff. RedR used its website to publicise generic issues.

Overall, Measure For Measure found that most pilot agencies committed to the People in Aid Code despite the time needed for implementing and measuring progress. Pilot agency plans are now underway. Activities in 1999–2000 will be externally audited in England, Ireland, Kenya and Rwanda, and a report published next year.