A key component of effective humanitarian response is coordination. Coordination “establishes a coherent and complementary approach [between humanitarian actors] that identifies ways to work together for better collective results”.1 The Cluster approach was developed by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) to bring together relevant stakeholders, and ultimately increase efficiency in humanitarian response. Eleven sectoral Clusters have been established for coordination, including one Cluster for water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) (Figure 1). Over time, coordination and the Cluster approach has evolved with other reforms (e.g. the Transformative Agenda, Grand Bargain, and Scale-Up).
At the global level, the Cluster approach aims to strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies by designating Cluster leads and ensuring there is predictable leadership and accountability.3 The Clusters have three key areas of responsibility including: standards and policy-setting; building response capacity; and, operational support. Each Cluster consists of humanitarian organizations (both UN and non-UN) led by an independent Cluster Coordinator hosted by a Cluster Lead Agency (CLA).
The Global WASH Cluster (GWC), led by UNICEF, works primarily on humanitarian WASH.
Practically, the GWC activates a National Coordination Platform (NCP) when: 1) response and coordination gaps exist in a humanitarian situation; and, 2) existing capacity is overwhelmed or constrained in their ability to respond to identified needs in line with humanitarian principles. NCPs are intended as temporary mechanisms, and coordination is intended to be handed over to local authorities and stakeholders over time.
At the country level, the Cluster approach aims to ensure a coherent and effective response, by4 : 1) supporting service delivery; 2) informing the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC)/Humanitarian Country Team’s (HCT) strategic decision-making; 3) planning and implementing NCP strategies; 4) monitoring and evaluating performance; 5) building national capacity in preparedness and contingency planning; and,
6) supporting robust advocacy. Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) is another function added to these six to compose the 6+1 core country level NCP functions. The NCP coordinates all activities and organizations in the WASH sector, including implementing agencies (often dozens of national or international non-governmental organizations (NGO)), the host government, donors, other humanitarian coordination platforms, and ultimately, the affected population (Figure 2). Collectively this should ensure adequate coverage of assistance, reduce the potential of overlap by responders, address capacity and quality, and meet the needs of the response.
While each NCP operates differently and adapts to the local context, a practical framework for monitoring country level coordination based on the core functions was developed by the GWC, termed the minimum requirements (MR).5 The coordination effort of the NCP is usually organized with at least two positions (accountable to UNICEF) at the national-level: 1) a Coordinator; and, 2) an Information Manager. Other positions (at national- or sub-national- levels) may be added to help specific geographic scope, overall workload, and/or local partnerships and be funded by UNICEF, NGOs, and/or the host government.
Additionally, the Strategic Advisory Group (SAG) is made up of a smaller group of key actors to support the NCP by proposing and formulating strategic orientations, and supporting decision making on behalf of the larger group. Technical Working Groups (TWiGs), created on an as needed basis, may also be established to assist the NCP in guiding technical norms and formulating appropriate technical practices.
Implementing agencies in the response work to assist and share their data.
Recently, the Global WASH Cluster, together with Tufts University, completed a summary of the evidence on WASH coordination, including collating information from: 1) NCP evaluations; 2) activity reports from NCP staff; and, 3) key informant interviews with WASH coordination experts.6 Across these three disparate data sets, consistent themes on the WASH Cluster approach were identified, including:
• The Cluster approach is a cost-effective ‘best-fit’ model that evolved over time.
• Successful NCP staff have, and utilize, both technical and social (coordination) skills.
• Underlying context is a critical factor for NCP success.
• There are trade-offs to participation for NCP staff and partners.
Challenges to the WASH Cluster approach were also identified, including how to: incorporate and be accountable to beneficiaries; coordinate across coordination platforms; work with national governments; manage sub-national NCP(s); and, transition from the emergency phase to the development context.
Additionally, notable gaps in the evidence base were identified, including: 1) feedback from all relevant stakeholders (most particularly non-UN stakeholders and beneficiaries); and, 2) research incorporating contextual factors, measurements over time, and transparent methodologies to limit evaluation subjectivity.
The project described herein expands on this previous work and aims to gain a deeper understanding of the overall value of the NCP to the humanitarian response by: gathering feedback from the NCP staff and stakeholders over a 9-month period in three contexts using a transparent methodology. Overall, the goal of this project was to review specific tools, activities, and products completed by individual NCP to understand how they lead (or not) to response outcomes. The results of this work are intended to validate the previously developed Theory of Change for WASH Coordination, and then to be translated to improve NCP strategies, and ultimately, benefit affected populations.