A mother and her children in an IDP camp in the Lac region of Chad. A mother and her children in an IDP camp in the Lac region of Chad. Photo credit: Eva Erlach/GTS
Using affected people’s perceptions to better manage humanitarian response
by Geneviève Cyvoct and Alexandra T. Warner February 2019

Chad is a tough neighbourhood. The challenges of widespread poverty and food insecurity in many parts of the country are compounded by the continuing presence of refugees from Sudan in the east, more recent displacement in the Lake Chad Basin, where Boko Haram is active, and the arrival of people fleeing conflict in the Central African Republic. In the face of what is one of the most complex humanitarian emergencies in Africa, the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) has put in place a potentially ground-breaking approach to bringing the perspectives of affected people into the way its members manage the response.

The innovation is two-fold. First, the HCT has agreed to use a common platform to track the views of the people supposed to benefit from humanitarian action. Second, it is using the findings to measure progress both against the objectives of Chad’s 2017–19 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) and the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) on Quality and Accountability.

Starting the project

In 2016, the Senior Transformative Agenda Implementation Team, now renamed Peer 2 Peer, recommended improved collective accountability in Chad. The HCT then included specific accountability objectives in the 2017–19 HRP and established a steering committee on accountability to affected populations (AAP), as well as a working group on protection from sexual exploitation and abuse.

Translating objectives on better community engagement into indicators and specific follow-up actions was a challenge. Tracking the views of the affected community as an input into managing programme performance had never been done before on a response-wide scale. OCHA and the AAP steering committee, with the approval of the Humanitarian Coordinator, turned to the CHS Alliance and Ground Truth Solutions for support and guidance. Funding came from SIDA, which has accountability to affected people as a priority concern.

The approach, which got under way in January 2018, combines the collection and analysis of people’s perspectives in three regions, Logone Oriental, Lake region and Ouaddai, with capacity strengthening support. In this way, the views of affected people are used to monitor programme implementation, while individual organisations and clusters get help in becoming more accountable.

Tracking people’s views is one thing, but acting on the feedback is what it is all about. This entails dialogue on what the data reveals and how to use it among all those involved in the response. It also means communicating the results of surveys back to communities, so that they get the sense that they have a say in activities intended to protect and assist them. Through this, Ground Truth Solutions and the CHS Alliance hope to demonstrate that the perspectives of affected people can be an important tool in measuring impact, guiding the response and providing a way for affected people to engage.

How it works

The project brings together two sets of activities. Ground Truth Solutions is responsible for gathering and analysing the perceptions of affected people, field staff and local partner organisations on the implementation of the HRP. The data collected by Ground Truth Solutions is intended not just to orient short-term course corrections, but also to inform the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) that underpins the 2019 response plan.

The CHS Alliance, meanwhile, uses the data – and the design process – as a starting point to help humanitarian actors in Chad use the CHS as a framework for improving their quality and accountability policies and processes. The Alliance provides its support through workshops and meetings with cluster representatives, NGOs – including CHS Alliance member organisations – and others active in humanitarian action in Chad.

Community perception surveys are aligned with the HRP’s strategic objective indicators and the CHS commitments. Interviews are carried out one-on-one with a sample of affected people that is representative of the type of population – refugees, host communities, or the internally displaced. In addition to the perception surveys, focus group discussions with local leaders and affected people add further depth to the data. Humanitarian staff are also asked for their views, providing a counterpoint to the views of affected people. The staff survey is conducted by email with the support of OCHA. Results are analysed and aggregated to provide insights on the overall humanitarian response, paying particular attention to the accountability indicators set out in the HRP.

Findings from the first surveys were circulated in August 2018 and discussed with stakeholders at the regional and national level. Findings and responses from humanitarian actors were then presented to community leaders in the three crisis-affected regions.

What does it look like?

Practically, what do these perception surveys look like, and how are they linked to the strategic objectives of the response in Chad? Take the HRP’s first strategic objective:  save and preserve the lives and ensure the dignity of affected populations. One of the perceptual indicators for this objective is: ‘the percentage of affected people who feel informed of the different services available to them’.

Do you feel informed about the kind of aid available to you?

Across the three regions surveyed, some 60% of affected people say they feel informed about the services available to them. Compare this with the responses of humanitarian staff and you see that there is a gap between information-sharing activities and awareness: 90% of humanitarian staff say they are able to provide affected people with the information they need.

Lessons

The centrality of ownership

The project would not have got off the ground without the engagement and support of key actors in Chad. GTS and the CHS Alliance were responding to a need expressed by humanitarians in the country. Perception indicators were agreed with OCHA. The surveys were developed with OCHA and the AAP Steering Committee, which then shared them with the HCT. Humanitarian agencies support data collection in the three regions. Preliminary results were reviewed by stakeholders to better tailor findings and inform recommendations.

This engagement is essential to ensuring that the results are relevant and useful. Without this, findings would not be informing clusters’ accountability plans and would not be considered as inputs into the HNO and HRP.

The value of independence

There is value in organisations tracking perceptions during regular monitoring activities. There is also a time and place for third-party efforts. In Chad, we have seen that affected populations appreciate speaking to an independent agency. This also allows for greater comparability of results across regions and the aggregation of findings to the national level. GTS’s work has been designed as a complement to organisational monitoring, making the findings much more usable. As the project advances, GTS and the CHS Alliance will support clusters and other organisations to develop and implement their own perception surveys, providing further complementary data.

Matching qualitative and quantitative feedback

The data collection approach delivers quantitative data through the quantification of people’s opinions (using a five-point scale) and qualitative data through focus group discussions. The first delivers powerful visuals for decision-makers, while the qualitative data provides the depth needed to design and implement changes to programming.

Maintain flexibility

To stay relevant, the project had to keep a level of flexibility. What was clear at the beginning of the project was that it should cover a complete humanitarian programme cycle: from the HNO through the HRP planning exercise to implementation and back. What was less clear was how important the timing of dissemination and training activities, as well as breaks in activities, would be.

The dissemination of survey results needed to align with programme planning in- country to improve take-up and allow collective solutions to emerge. The CHS Alliance used the survey results and discussions with stakeholders to inform and design support activities. This led to a workshop on complaints mechanisms, as well as discussions on information-sharing and participation. Lastly, sufficient time needs to be maintained between surveys to allow for changes to be made, and for those changes to be reflected in the perceptions of affected people.

A model worth replicating

As we are only in the midst of the second round of data collection, it is too soon to say how changes in programming have resulted in improved results for and from the perspective of affected populations. However, the project has started an important discussion within the humanitarian community in Chad on how to more systematically collect and use community perceptions to inform the deliverables of the humanitarian response, as well as how to best engage communities. We believe this discussion is a key starting point in raising awareness not only on the how, but also on the why. By broaching the how, we have been able to build evidence as to why it is important to systematically collect feedback, and what value this brings to operations. The project has also shown, once again, the potential of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability as a driver of positive change. People and communities affected by crisis are at the heart of the Standard. We need to hear them in order to continuously learn and improve our services.

The next step for the project is to develop a more systematic approach at global level, so that collectively including the voices of affected people in humanitarian planning and implementation becomes the norm. The approach in Chad demonstrates one way of getting there and, with further experience in 2019, we aim to have a model that can be replicated in other contexts, while also setting the groundwork for affected people to inform HNOs and HRPs in a systematic way.

Geneviève Cyvoct is Senior Quality and Accountability Officer at the Core Humanitarian Standards Alliance. Alexandra T. Warner is Programme Manager at Ground Truth Solutions. For more information on this project, visit: http://groundtruthsolutions.org/our-work/strengthening-the-humanitarian-response-in-chad/.

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