What sort of evidence are the currently used humanitarian standards based on? Are different standards using different kinds of evidence? How and when does evidence translate into a standard? Some brief comments from Sphere, allowing time for LEGS and the colleagues from OneWorldTrust/Humanitarian Futures Program – and more importantly, discussion from the floor.
Standards like the Sphere minimum standards are sector-wide but the majority are without any integrated compliance mechanism (HAP and People In Aid excepted here). They are unique in that they represent a broad consensus across the humanitarian sector – through a broad-based consultative process. There is a basic premise in the application of minimum standards – that their use will bring about / result in positive change in a humanitarian response.
I said this in Chennai last year and say it here again today: the Standard is qualitative, universal and applicable in any disaster situation. the indicator is (normally) measurable and a ‘signal’ as to whether the standard has been attained. water supply example – often quoted, needs to be contextualised etc. – but that’s a different discussion. The thing is, where does the standard – and more importantly, the indicator come from?
So where do the standards and indicators come from? Desktop exercise? I hardly think so. Experience? Everything has to start somewhere, so I guess it’s possible to say that in some cases, ‘with experience’ the appropriate indicator can be determined. Example – the use of ‘cash transfers’ is new to the 2011 Handbook. Since the 2004 Handbook, the use of cash transfers within the sector has developed. But being something ‘new’, experience had to be gained on when and how to use the transfers and also to determine the level of the transfers etc. It all had to start somewhere. Best Practice? The coming together of experience that is acceptable across the sector and which can be easily replicated. Example – using the water supply indicators from before – 500m walking distance from shelter to water point and the 30 minutes waiting time. These are ‘social’ (rights based?) issues applied to the sector which over time have become ‘best practice’. Evidence? In a good number of cases, the appropriate standard or indicator has a scientific or technical basis. Example – 2,100 kcals/person/day or 15l water/person/day are backed with scientific evidence that these are the minimum quantities needed to sustain life. ================================================= In summary, the standards and indicators have been developed based on a combination of evidence and experience. And of course, monitoring and evaluation plays a role in providing feedback – a feedback loop. While there has been rigour and logic in their development, the main consideration has been to place them at the threshold between stability (i.e. sustaining life) and deterioration to mortality. Hence the “minimum” standard.
There are other Sphere-like standards – education, economic recovery, child protection, gender, livestock etc. We saw the handbooks earlier. These make an important contribution to any humanitarian response. We’ll be hearing from LEGS’s approach to evidence in a short while. HAP and People In Aid , while offering certification as part of their promotion of accountability, surely use evidence and best practice. Marian will surely better placed than me to talk from HAP’s perspective. Sphere’s core standards and protection principles – improved in 2011 edition (protection has always been a cross cutting issue). The inclusion of the protection principles is a reflection of how work in the protection sector has progressed over the years. Ten years ago it would not have been considered feasible nor desirable to have ‘protection standards’. But look at the ICRC “Professional Standards for Protection Work”. Sphere’s protection principles and core standards are a collection of ‘best practices’ from within the sector, brought together in one place for easy reference. The reason why these are ‘principles’ and not ‘standards’ also reflects the fact that here is not consensus in the sector.
Standards provide benchmarks against which practitioners can measure the quality of their work, as well as offering the opportunity to external bodies, such as donors, to assess the performance of these practitioners. Evidence and/or best practice important for quality and accountability, therefore. Skill to work with standards – contextualisation; avoidance of them becoming a ‘checklist’. If applied blindly, can do more harm than good. Therefore, even with an evidence or best practice base, each situation needs to be looked at with a fresh eye, alternatives considered and the decision explained. There is no one single right way to apply standards. While evidence is crucial, the sector should be careful to maintain its minimum standards adaptable to context and to the needs of the affected population. Maybe not all aspects of humanitarian response would benefit from a rigid, inflexible evidence-based approach.
Thank you – and please don’t forget to tell you staff about the recently released Sphere eLearning course – www.sphereproject.org/e-learning
standards and evidence-based response (John Demerell, Sphere)
The role of standards for evidence- based humanitarian response 28th ALNAP Annual Meeting Washington D.C., March 2013
Standards vs. Indicators • Standard Qualitative Universal & applicable in any disaster situation • Indicator A ‘signal’ – has the standard been attained? Measurable • All people have safe and equitable access to a sufficient quantity of water for drinking, cooking and personal and domestic hygiene . . (Water supply standard 1: access and water quantity (p.87)) • Average water use . . . is at least 15l/person/day • Maximum distance . . . to water point is 500m • Queueing time . . . no more than 30 minutes
Basis for Standards & Indicators • Desk-top Exercise? Sphere office team pulling standards and indicators from the air • Experience? Application of ‘common sense’ • Best Practice? Application of experience acceptable across the sector • Evidence? Scientific and technical approaches
Technical standards, corestandards & protection principles • INEE, SEEP, Psychosocial, Child Protection, Gender, LEGS etc. • HAP, People In Aid etc. • Core standards and protection principles
And finally . . . . • Standards provide benchmarks • Skill to work with standards • No single right way to apply standards