Thursday, 28 November 2013


First draft certification model: Summary key issues from your feedback 

Many thanks to the organisations who sent their feedback to us on the draft proposed certification model.  Nearly 50 organisations, individuals, networks and NGO consortia have submitted written comments on the draft model, providing valuable feedback and suggestions on how to improve it.  We especially appreciate the efforts made by membership organisations to compile inputs from their members.

We are in the process of consolidating the inputs and incorporating the most relevant into a revised draft model, bearing in mind that some of the issues raised are beyond the scope of the project.  We will use the revised draft as the basis for more focused field consultations and piloting to test the validity of our assumptions and proposals.

In the meantime, we would like share the top 10 questions raised by many of you and clarify some issues that were not clear in the initial draft proposal.

1. What is the purpose of certification?
In the first draft of the model, the purpose of certification was not clear to many of you.  Some expressed concern that this could be used by states and donors for control and compliance purposes, or could be misused to limit access to populations in a crisis or to funding. These are certainly risks that we have identified and that will need to be mitigated as part of any successful certification scheme.

From our perspective a relevant and meaningful certification model is one that promotes learning, quality, effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian organisations. It would include criteria to assess, measure, report and verify an organisation’s capacity, performance and accountability. But to be clear, certification of an organisation should not be seen as the end goal, but rather as a way for an organisation to demonstrate its commitment to humanitarian principles,  quality and accountability to crisis affected people.

2.  Is this a new model? It looks very similar to existing models…
The draft proposed model is an attempt to stimulate debate on what a feasible, sustainable certification model might look like and how to achieve it.  Some have asked what is different in this model from the model used by HAP (or other models). We are working closely with HAP to incorporate their learning and experiences into the project, and to see if we can improve on HAP’s approach. We also want to explore other approaches to verification and certification, including national level certification processes, and ensure that these are incorporated into our thinking.

In particular, we are looking at a model that reinforces commitments to humanitarian principles, quality and accountability, as well as one that would scale up the level of participation by humanitarian organisations, and be more financially sustainable. We will try to reflect more clearly what we think is unique about this approach in the revised model.

3.  How does this link to the Core Humanitarian Standard?
Many of you have asked how the criteria for certification in this model would link to the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS).  Because a draft of the standard was not yet ready at the time we prepared the draft model, we included some examples of criteria that could be used to assess an organisation.  Our idea was to use these examples to stimulate debate, and then to share the feedback we received with the CHS process. 

From the feedback received, the majority of you seem to expect that the Core Humanitarian Standard should be the foundation of any proposed model.  Our research and consultations so far do indicate that the prerequisite for any successful certification model is a widely agreed set of standards or criteria to assess and organisation against. This is why the project is committed to support the development of a core standard, which could then be integrated into the certification model.

We think that the project can support the CHS process in two ways: first, by using the field consultation and piloting process as a means to get early feedback from stakeholders on the usefulness, relevance and validity of the draft core standard, second, the project can contribute suggestions on ways to measure, verify and report on how the core standard is used.

4.  Why is the draft model limited to assessing the principles of humanity and impartiality?
In the draft model, we unintentionally gave the impression that the principles of neutrality and independence were not as important as humanity and impartiality, and therefore did not need to be mentioned in the model. This was a mistake on our part. We will make sure that the new model clearly reaffirms the importance of all four principles as the foundation for humanitarian action.

In the draft we focused only on humanity and impartiality, primarily because these principles can be “measured” in operational terms, such as the use of an objective needs assessment to determine programming priorities. In contrast, an organisation’s independence and neutrality are based on the perceptions of different stakeholders, which may be influenced by the crisis context and other factors beyond the control of the organisation, which make it more difficult to fairly and objectively assess an organisation.

5. Why is the draft model limited to humanitarian work of NGOs?
Many of you have asked why the model is limited to the humanitarian work of NGOS, and suggested it should also include their development work.  We also received questions about why the UN system and other actors (like the private sector or military) were not included. 

We designed the project to focus on NGO’s humanitarian work, as this is where we felt we might be able to add the most value in terms of understanding the potential role of certification in efforts to improve the quality, effectiveness and accountability of humanitarian actions. We understand that it is often difficult for organisations to separate their humanitarian work from other work, particularly in relation to resilience and preparedness; nevertheless, we had to set a frame to narrow the focus of our work. This does not pre-empt looking into how certification could also apply to NGOs’ developmental work in the future, if a model is considered relevant and feasible.  It also does not preclude the model, if implemented, from  evolving over time to include other types of organisations that commit to humanitarian principles and core standards.

6. Where are the voices and perspectives of affected populations in the draft model?  
Many of the comments received welcomed the model’s focus on field-based verification of practices, and the intention of integrating the voices of affected populations into the assessment process.  However, most felt that the process described was too bureaucratic, headquarters-focused and was not explicit enough on the role of affected populations in any field-based assessment or verification. Several provided some very useful suggestions on how to do this, which we are reviewing carefully. 

We will be looking at how best to utilise the increasing number of tools and approaches to give affected populations a means to communicate their needs, priorities and expectations about aid and aid providers and plan on explore this during the field consultation and pilot testing part of the project.

7. Could other approaches to verification and certification be compatible with the draft model?
Several organisations asked how this draft model would link to their own internal quality assurance processes, or external processes that they participate in, such as HAP, national level certification processes, or donor partner pre-qualification procedures. 

In the draft model, we highlight that integration, alignment and compatibility with existing systems is an important factor for the success of any certification model.  We know that many organisations have made considerable efforts to build their capacity and systems to improve the quality and accountability of their work, and it is important to recognise these efforts, without adding additional burdens or requirements on them. Other organisations might not have the resources to invest in these kinds of systems, but still do good quality, accountable, and effective programmes. This also needs to be acknowledged in any proposed model.  We will provide more details in the next version of the model on how a verification process or certification can build on existing processes.

8. Are the proposed levels too complicated? Could they act as a barrier to participation?
While many organisations felt the proposed levels of certification could be helpful, several organisations were concerned that donors might misuse the levels to channel funding only to the top-rated organisations. Some suggested that the levels would work better as an internal tool to help organisations assess their current capacity and performance and identify areas for improvements. Others suggested that the proposed four levels are too complicated, and a simplified version would be easy for the public to understand. 

We agree, and in the next version, we will propose a clearer, simplified version of the levels. We hope to show how an assessment process could help organisations identify their strengths and areas for improvement, while communicating to external audiences that an organisation meets minimum certification requirements.

9.  Why is the proposed governance structure so complex? Isn’t the aim to simplify?
Several organisations raised concerns that the proposed governance and management structure is too complicated, bureaucratic, and costly.  Others asked how the model could be sustainable when there are many other different initiatives with their own governance and management structures, leading to duplication of costs and functions.

We included the proposed governance and management structure as a way to generate ideas on how to address the complicated issue of making sure any governance model is open and representative of the many different stakeholders in the system – and able to incorporate new actors in the future. We also wanted to generate feedback on what we see as an important issue for the sector to address: how to promote and link a more coherent approach to setting standards for humanitarian action to more consistent and rigorous approaches to monitoring, verification and reporting on how standards are used. 

10. How can the model be tested when there is still no consensus on the criteria for assessment?
Many of you questioned the logic of piloting the model when there is still no agreement on any Core Humanitarian Standard and many unanswered questions about the feasibility of certification.  For many organisations, piloting implies a full-scale implementation of a complete model in a field environment. However, for the project, our concept of piloting is an opportunity to consult directly with stakeholders in the field around some of the key assumptions and proposals in the model, and assess how it would work before going further with developing a complete model.

The pilots will give us an opportunity to get more field perspectives on the model, and will give a clearer idea on what would make certification feasible and relevant for organisations. The main aims of the field pilots would be to: test and validate the assessment criteria from the perspective of the participating organisation; consult with the organisation and other stakeholders (including affected populations) on how they see the added value (or not) of certification; identifying how this proposed process would integrate with internal and external processes; and understanding the costs and resource implications of the model. All this will help provide a clearer understanding of how certification can contribute (or not) to improved quality, accountability and effectiveness of aid efforts.