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Strengths and challenges of coordinated humanitarian response

Early observations from the ARC Replica pay-out in Senegal

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Interviews undertaken with member agency staff as well as government stakeholders prior to the first ARC Replica distribution in Senegal highlight some pros and cons of coordinated action on humanitarian responses.

Coordination is one of the areas where the design of the Start Network’s ARC Replica pay-out in Senegal has been most ambitious. Not only are six different member agencies — Action Against Hunger (ACF), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Oxfam, Plan International, Save the Children International, World Vision—coordinating to provide support across seven regions, but also this group of Start network members is coordinating with the Senegalese government, which is providing support across the remaining seven regions through a $12m ARC pay-out.

With this in mind, coordination is a key focus for the pay-out evaluation. Pre-implementation interviews undertaken with both member agency staff and Senegalese government stakeholders in March to April 2020 highlight not only the pros and cons of coordination in relation to the ARC Replica pay-out specifically, but also in humanitarian response more generally.

 

Coordination-related highlights of this year’s ARC Replica pay-out identified by both government and member agency respondents include:

  1. Coordination between individual member agencies, and between the Start Network and the Senegalese government, was the most commonly cited advantage of ARC Replica compared to more traditional humanitarian responses to drought.
  2. Most respondents felt that their organisation’s coordination in relation to the drought response had improved this year as a result of better information-sharing as well as government involvement, particularly during the beneficiary targeting phase.
  3. All respondents felt that their coordination with other NGOs had improved. Respondents noted that each Start Network member agency brought their own specialities to the programme, strengthening their performance as a group.

Respondents were also asked about the strengths and challenges of coordination beyond ARC Replica, speaking about coordinated humanitarian response more generally.

 

Strengths of Coordinated Humanitarian Response

 

The three key strengths of coordination in humanitarian response identified by pre-implementation interview respondents were:

 

Efficient Use of Funds

“Coordination makes it possible to avoid duplication and to pool resources. It makes it possible to act on a large scale and to therefore reach more targets. We act together in order to reach the maximum number of households.”

 Senegalese Government Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

Coordinated responses like the ARC Replica pay-out in Senegal avoid inefficiency caused by overlapping distributions or mis-matched activities. Coordination can also help reduce fixed costs with regard to procurement and MEAL, allowing a higher percentage of funds to be directed to supported populations. Respondents also connected this increased efficiency to the potential for greater impact at the beneficiary level, as avoiding duplication and minimising fixed costs can increase the amount of support received by each household and/or expand the number of households supported.

 

Transparency

“Coordinating activities makes it possible to have better visibility of everything that everyone does for the activities—and this helps with transparency.”                        

 Senegalese Government Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

Respondents reported they feel the level of communication and sharing required for coordination creates a system of accountability between actors, whether that is NGOs working together or NGOs working alongside the government.

 

Sharing of Experiences and Resources

“With nutrition, there are some NGOs that have much more experience. In terms of compliance, there are others who were much further ahead. In light of this range of experiences, we can complement each other to strengthen the response.”

Member Agency Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

Respondents noted that one advantage of coordinated humanitarian response is the ability for all partners to benefit from the experience and/or resources of individual organisations. Member agencies also spoke about how being able to draw on government resources like the National Register (RNU)—particularly during the beneficiary targeting phase—has helped make the ARC Replica pay-out more efficient, and about how the national government’s relationships with local authorities and communities helped the NGOs work more easily in targeted communities. 

 

Challenges of Coordinated Humanitarian Response

 

Three key strengths of coordination in humanitarian response identified by pre-implementation interview respondents were:

 

Speed of Decision-Making

When a number of NGO and government parties are involved, as with ARC Replica, more time can be required to ensure a consensus is reached for well-informed decision-making. As one respondent, using ARC Replica as an example of this, noted:

“It has been much slower. Mobilising all the NGOs for each stage of decision-making can be very cumbersome.”

Member Agency Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

Communication

“It can be challenging to share information and data as some partners do not communicate enough.”

Member Agency Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

There is a fine balance between over- and under-communicating. Designing and implementing systems for managing communication between different organisations — particularly if partners are coordinating not only activities but also of other aspects of programming like procurement, MEAL, and external communications — is a challenge worth considering early on during the planning phase of a programme.

 

Imbalance Between Partners

“When a response is coordinated but the coordination is not done properly – if roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined from the start, if tasks are not set up with a monitoring schedule – there is a risk that it will take a lot of time. Or else 1-2 large organisations will take over the work of all coordination.”

Member Agency Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

This issue is closely tied to both decision-making and communication. Regardless of the benefits of coordinated response, if one or two organisations feel they are carrying a disproportionate amount of responsibility for communication—or if one or two organisations feel they are being ignored or excluded from decision-making—then there could be negative short-term (with the specific programme) and long-term (with willingness to coordinate on future programmes) impacts.

 

Moving Forward

 

Although there are challenges, the pre-implementation interviewees were overall very positive about coordination with regard to the ARC Replica pay-out in Senegal specifically, as well as a humanitarian response more generally:

 

“The Start Network consortium in Senegal within the framework of ARC Replica is something that must continue to be reinforced. It has been an excellent collaboration…it is a coordinated action and we speak with one voice. It is a listening environment where we exchange our experiences and knowledge, and we share the different strengths we have…the six NGOs that are part of this consortium have shown an openness and desire to work together which is expanding into other platforms. This should be welcomed, encouraged, and continued.”

Member Agency Respondent (Pre-Implementation Interview)

 

In addition to these pre-implementation interviews, mid-implementation interviews covering similar topics have recently started with implementing agency and government stakeholders. Post-implementation interviews are planned for August 2020. It is hoped that these interviews will provide even more insight about the strengths of humanitarian coordination, as well as potential areas for improvement to carry forward into future Start Network programming.

 


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  • by Emily Grant