Standards of Humanitarian Action

  • Course description

    The main aim of the learning process during this module is to explain and re-iterate the framework conditions of humanitarian action today and to prepare a common ground for students work in Stations 2 to 6. It recapitulates and fosters the knowledge of standards in research on and practice of Humanitarian Action. It forms a recognised part of the curriculum and is a requirement for obtaining the NOHA Master’s degree.
    Current humanitarian action is characterised by a multitude of different actors of a varying nature. These actors mainly consist of relief agencies, donors and beneficiaries; and all three groups of actors comprise governmental as well as non-governmental agencies. Due to a variety of factors, all three groups are held accountable for a “good” humanitarian action: humanitarian action is required to be of a certain quality (and quantity), as well as to be effective, efficient, responsible, culturally sensitive, and professional – to name only a few criteria. Non-governmental as well as governmental relief agencies are held accountable by the general public, and in particular by the media, to perform “well” when they are engaged in humanitarian action. The public also expects governmental donors – as well as more and more private donors – to relate their funding and donations to the quality of performance in humanitarian action. And there is a growing tendency to evaluate governmental as well as individual beneficiaries according to effectiveness and efficiency in the use of resources provided in the framework of humanitarian action. In this environment, the evaluation of effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action often includes the capacity to diminish or even prevent the interference by state and non-state actors to divert humanitarian assistance for their own purposes. Standards that enhance transparency, quality and professionalism are crucial for all actors to understand what is going on in a crisis, and to determine what should be done in which ways, and to be transparent about their activities and impact. Yet, standards can also become a goal in themselves and lead to uncreative standardized interventions.
  • Main themes

    1. Core Standards
    2. Logistics
    3. Monitoring and Evaluation
    4. Research Standards
  • Learning outcomes

    In conformity with the learning outcomes set out by the NOHA network, students should achieve the following learning outcomes by the end of this module:
    Core Competencies

    1. To develop a global vision of the contexts of conflict, emergency and vulnerable situations
    2. To develop a deep understanding of legal aspects, health risks, political and ethical implications of humanitarian action
    3. To understand conflict and emergency situations, including the main actors and beneficiaries
    4. To develop basic skills in research design and research standards with regards to the M.A. thesis 

    Secondary Competencies

    5. To contribute to drawing scenarios of future problem situations and possible solutions
    6. To identify responsibilities in implementing humanitarian assistance and in assuming accountability
    7. To assume leadership in view of long term and global visions 

    Auxiliary Competencies

    8. To assess ways and consequences of interventions carried out by humanitarian agencies
    9. To develop an attitude of self-reliance and self-reflexivity 

    In sum, the student has to develop integrative knowledge and understanding of the different aspects of HA (e.g. politics, law, public health, anthropology, management, logistics, ethics, psychology) to start dealing with situations in a professional work-setting.
    Moreover, he/she has demonstrated enhanced knowledge and understanding of research methods and methodology in preparation for the master thesis.
    Has shown the ability to identify possible research methods and methodology for the Master thesis research in accordance with ethical academic principles.
  • Teaching and learning methodology

    The courses will be conducted in a mixture of lectures, group work and practical exercises.
    Course I: Core Standards
    Actors in humanitarian action have been developing international, inter-organizational and intra-organizational standards, which will be the cornerstone of this introductory course. This course will deal with a selection of the core standards that have been developed, such as SPHERE, HAP, People in Aid, Core Humanitarian Standard.
    Course II: Logistics
    There is little doubt that humanitarian logistics and supply chain management is a key topic relevant to the professional delivery of humanitarian action. This course will introduce different aspects of humanitarian supply chain management and logistics, including decision making, chain components, procurement and warehousing, communication and security as well as the social dimensions of delivery systems. To facilitate active learning with practical experiences the students will work on case studies, simulations and joint poster presentations.
    Course III: Monitoring and Evaluation
    This introduction to M&E covers the main ideas behind M&E in international assistance programmes, its location in the Project Management Cycle, opportunities and limitations. The idea is to give the students a good basic understanding of M&E Participants will learn about the basic steps when planning for an M&E framework, what criteria can be used for evaluating humanitarian aid, how M&E can help in achieving impact and what is needed in practical terms in order to organise an evaluation.
    Course IV: Research Standards
    The students receive a solid background for research and writing of their master thesis. Basic concepts of scholarly research (theory, epistemology) are as much part of this course as are research methods, with a focus on qualitative research methods and research methods in law. The students will also have the chance to further elaborate the topic of their master thesis and receive a coaching session by one of the institute's experienced staff members.
  • Assessment methods and criteria

    A.  Self-Assesment
    Students will carry out a self-assessment of their competencies individually;
    Students will check in groups the CORE standards with those of the NOHA network.
    B.   Homework for the Research Design and Research Standards course
    Identify a research question for your Master thesis.
    Develop an introductory question for an expert interview, which you could use in your thesis.
    Conduct a short interview using this question (deadline tbc).
    Transcribe the first two pages of the interview and hand them in. At the top write your research question and start your transcript with the introductory question in the manner you have asked it during the interview. 
    (Spacing 1.5, margins 2.5 cm, deadline tbc, your homework work will not be graded but it is compulsory).
    C.   Written assignments
    Cores Standards: Within the humanitarian sector a number of initiatives have been established which aim to strengthen the quality of humanitarian action and increase professionalism in project implementation.           
    Examples are:
    •          The Code of Conduct for the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Response Programmes
    •          The Humanitarian Charter and the Sphere Project
    •          Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP)
    •          The People in Aid Code of Good Practice
    •          The Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative
    •          The Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS)
    Question for your written assignment
    Please reflect on the contents of this module in your written assignment answering the following two questions in a written essay.
    1. Why do we need standards of humanitarian action and what are their successes and failures? (You can either focus on one specific initiative or discuss the process of standardization in humanitarian action)
    2. Which of the standards encountered in this module can be relevant for your Master thesis and how do you plan to incorporate this in your research design? (You can focus either on one specific initiative mentioned above or on standards concerning the research process or the project cycle management). 
    •Number of words: 2000
    Deadline for handing in your assignment: May 31st, 2016
    Monitoring and Evaluation: Your project is implemented in a region with an open conflict (civil war). Your project evaluation consequently needs to be conflict sensitive. Both the process of the evaluation but also the results must not influence the conflict negatively (do no harm). Actors involved in the project and in the evaluation must not be put at risk. 
    Please take the list of the main elements of the evaluation Terms of Reference (TOR) given to you at the end of the course.
    Determine which elements need to include conflict sensitivity in one way or the other. Which elements need to be designed or adapted so that they are conflict sensitive and how should this look like?
    Please name the elements and write 3-4 sentences about each element saying how they should be designed or adapted so that they contribute to a conflict sensitive evaluation. 
  • Required reading

    Zwitter, Andrej/ Lamont, Christopher K. / Heintze, Hans-Joachim/ Herman, Joost (2014): Humanitarian Action. Global, Regional and Domestic Legal Responses. Cambridge University Press.

    Furseth, I. and Everett E.L. (2013): Doing Your Master‘s Dissertation. From Start to Finish. Sage Study Skills. Los Angeles: Sage.
    Useful links:
    [Evaluation of the European Commission's Directorate for Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) (2005/2006), for European Commission]

Last updated: 22 November 2016

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