What do we mean when we talk about quality and accountability? How do these undeniably important, but often vaguely defined, principles influence humanitarian operations such as the tsunami recovery effort?
This fact sheet briefly examines these terms, and then takes a closer look at a few attempts by the International Federation and its members to better identify the quality of its work and improve its accountability to various stakeholders.
Defining quality and accountability
Both these terms are awash in technical definitions. According to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, quality refers to the merit or worth of an activity or intervention or its compliance with a given standard (OECD DAC 2002).
Accountability typically refers to the obligation to act according to clearly defined standards and expectations (Government of Canada, International Federation) or the obligation to demonstrate that work has been conducted in compliance with agreed upon rules and standards (OECD/DAC 2002).
So, quality and accountability is about performing to or above existing standards (or even creating new standards) and consistently communicating performance to various stakeholders - partners, donors, affected populations and the public.
As noted in a recent Humanitarian Network Paper on accountability, quality and accountability initiatives in humanitarian response generally fall under three categories1:
1. Beneficiary approaches - these focus on the rights and needs of affected populations and emphasize participatory approaches, appropriate contextual analysis and on mechanisms to listen and respond to the expressed needs of those affected by the disaster. The Listening Project, an initiative supported by the International Federation, is one well-known example of this kind of approach.
2. Humanitarian principles and standards - these are efforts to develop principles, standards and codes of conduct by which humanitarian actors will agree to hold themselves accountable. The Red Cross Red Crescent Code of Conduct (http://www.ifrc.org/publicat/conduct/index.asp) and Sphere (http://www.sphereproject.org) are two popular but under-utilized examples.
3. Technical standards - these generally involve standard planning tools (for example logical frameworks or results-based tools) and outcome or impact indicators (for example, Millennium Development indicators) for the various programme areas covered by the relief and development community.