Liberia: Lessons Learnt - JPO

Evaluation and Lessons Learned
Originally published

In 2004 a Do No Harm (DNH) / Joint Principles of Operation (JPO) project was funded by ECHO and OFDA for a six month period (August 2004 to February 2005) for the humanitarian community in Liberia. The project was undertaken by two consultants, one for DNH, the other for the JPO. This lesson learnt paper focuses on the JPO, a code of conduct, aspect of the project. It will outline the history of the JPO, the process undertaken, the JPO and other humanitarian actors and concluding remarks.

The overall programme objective was to enhance the impact of humanitarian aid on the peace process by strengthening communities in positive ways, while minimizing the use of humanitarian aid mechanisms that increase and/or perpetuate tensions in Liberia's context of violent conflict relates more specifically to the DNH aspect. The original project was focused on DNH, with the inclusion of the JPO coming at a later date in the discussion with donors. The over arching objective of the Joint Principles of Operation (JPO) component of the project is to increase commitment of International Non-governmental agencies (INGOs) towards the JPO.

The JPO project started with a series of interviews that formed the basis of a mapping exercise and report. By the end of the project, the JPO had undergone a process of review and endorsement. Briefing sessions were held with staff of INGOs. Members of the wider humanitarian community, Local NGO community, representatives of the transitional government and United Nations (UN) agencies were met.


The JPO has a long history in Liberia, originally the Joint Policy of Operation, it was initiated by a group of INGOs in 1996 (ACF, Action Aid, Caritas Sweden, CRS, LWF/WS, Oxfam, SCUK, UMCOR and WVI) in response to the increasingly difficult working environment and massive looting of property in April 1996 in Monrovia. Agencies believed that the looting of their assets was prolonging the conflict.

However, this was not the first of such initiatives in Liberia; the predecessor to the JPO was a joint UN / INGO code of conduct called the 'Principles and Protocols for Operation' (1995). That document focused on very similar principles to the JPO in 2004: Impartiality, Neutrality, Independence, Transparency, Consent and Targeted Assistance. In 1996, the INGOs decided to 'go it alone'.2

The JPO was pre-dated by several statements by the INGOs in May and June of 1996 that stated, while remaining committed to working in Liberia they could not resume full activities, but were focused on 'targeted, life saving activities', nor could they continue without respect by the factions for 'basic humanitarian guiding principles.' 3 They also called upon the United Nations Security Council to resolve the conflict and other organisations to respect their position. 4

In August of 1996, INGOs met again to review their stance, deciding that the situation had not changed but as there had been a breakdown in the Abuja Peace Agreement, they 'refined their strategy', retaining their 'minimum input' policy, ensure maximum impact through targeting and monitored interventions, and maintaining the high level of coordination. 5

In October 1996, the INGOs met to review the delivery of humanitarian assistance; this included a 'Smart Aid' workshop. They 'reaffirmed their commitment to the Mission statement of the Humanitarian Community in Liberia and the Principles and Protocols of Operation (1995)' they also agreed specifically:

- To actively support activities designed to promote peace through advocacy

- To endeavour to do no harm through INGO assistance to programme beneficiaries, implementing partners and programme staff

- To provide only the essential capital assets needed to address the "agreed to" needs of the beneficiaries so that the INGOs minimise the risk of fuelling the war in Liberia

- To support local communities to ensure continuity, sustainability, and self-sufficiency

- To continue with a self regulating mechanism

- To identify and support local capacities for peace

In April 1997 the INGOs re-committed to the JPO, making explicit the commitment to 'Smart Aid' and 'Do No Harm'. In September 1997, they again reviewed the JPO, the outcome of which stated the objectives of the INGO community;

Programme Activities

- By identifying and supporting local capacities for peace

- By supporting local communities to empower and ensure self-sufficiency

- By conducting regular monitoring and evaluation of programme activities

- By promoting the "Do No Harm' approach in all our programmes


- By continuing with self-regulating and coordination mechanisms

- By strengthening and improving coordination with other parties


- By actively supporting humanitarian objectives through advocacy

The evolution of the JPO in the intervening six (6) years has been sporadic. However, the JPO was and is a 'living document' as the context evolves, so to does the JPO. In 2003, the Monitoring and Steering Group (MSG - the INGO consortium) once again meet to discuss the relevance of the JPO in relation to their work. A JPO working group was formed from within the MSG. Sixteen (16) INGOs participated in a workshop in November 2003 and a new JPO was drafted dated 31 January 2004 and distributed to members of the MSG. 6 On 01 June 2004 a work shop was held on 'humanitarian principles and the next steps' where 55 representatives of INGOs, Local NGOs (LNGOs), United Nations and National Transition Government of Liberia (NTGL) attended. A key outcome from the workshop was the suggestion to form a joint consultative committee on issue of principles of humanitarian action and space. Also from the workshop a request for funding of a specific JPO consultant was forwarded to donors. European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) and the Office For Disaster Assistance (OFDA) agreed to fund the JPO consultant.

Lesson: It became apparent during the JPO briefing sessions that staff of INGOs that had worked for INGOs in the 1995 - 1997 period when the JPO was most active had not heard of the JPO. For a code of conduct to be relevant and effective it is important that advocacy and dissemination occurs within INGOs as well as with external parties who had been the focus of earlier dissemination exercises.

The Process: Review - Endorsement - Briefings

Upon the arrival of the JPO consultant towards the end of August 2004 a meeting was held with the JPO working group to discuss relative to the terms of reference the work plan. To facilitate the process of understanding for the consultant of the JPO and the humanitarian context in Liberia, it was agreed that a 'mapping exercise' would be conduct though interviews. The purpose of the interviews was to gage the acceptance of the JPO, how INGOs operationalise their principles, and to gain a wider understanding of the humanitarian context in Liberia.

Prior to the arrival of the JPO Officer and the subsequent mapping exercise conducted, two initiatives, as noted above, organised by the JPO working group had already taken place. With the 'maximised' integration of the UN mission a decision was made by the INGOs not to go forward with the joint consultative committee on issue of principles of humanitarian action and space. Between the drafting of the JPO in January and workshop in June and the arrival of the JPO Officer no other specific initiatives were undertaken.

Review and Endorsement

As part of the mapping exercise, interviews were held with representatives from 26 INGOs, 16 UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The focus however, was on the INGOs who formed the core beneficiary group of the project (the MSG). Most INGOs broadly supported a set of joint operating principles in Liberia that was flexible and relevant to the Liberian context. A number of agencies raised concerns about the lack of inclusion of sexual abuse and exploitation. The most significant divergence within the INGO community was the use of military resources i.e. helicopters, and meetings at UNMIL sites. The use of helicopters was supported by a number of agencies due to operational constraints, and others felt that engagement with UNMIL, including meetings at UNMIL sites was important for coordination and information sharing with a key stakeholder in the Liberian context.

There was some resistance to the JPO and the JPO Officer with a strong perception that the JPO Officer was the 'Principles Police', come to tell them what to do, to tell them that they were 'good' or 'bad' INGOs. However, what also became apparent during these meetings was that most agencies felt that the JPO had relevance to their work; however, they noted that the context had changed, over the intervening eight months Liberia had become more stable, operationally the difficulties of the past, i.e. lack of access, were reducing or non-existent in the areas that they worked. Therefore there was perceived to be a need to review the draft JPO of 31 January 2004.

Updates were provided by the JPO Officer at the MSG meetings on a weekly basis. Following the conclusion of the majority of INGO meetings it was decided at the MSG meeting on 24th September that a JPO review meeting would be held on Tuesday 28th September 2004. Four agencies attended the review meeting, with another two providing input via email and another verbally, a total of seven (7) agencies contributed to the review process. From observations a number of member agencies do not attend the MSG meeting, or attended irregularly, though they are on the MSG email distribution list, so roughly 25% of the 'active' agencies contributed to the review process. The reviewed document was distributed by email to members and a hardcopy at the MSG on Friday 01 October. An invitation was extended to MSG members to comment on the reviewed document, by 08 October 2004, and to revert to headquarters if necessary. Comments received were incorporated by the JPO Officer and distributed by email on 11 October 2004.

The reviewed JPO was presented to the MSG on 15 October. There was debate amongst members of the MSG regarding the inclusion of specific reference to the United Nations integrated mission. It was decided not to include a specific reference to the integrated mission. It was voted that the document was acceptable and ready for endorsement. The three MSF members of the MSG abstained from the vote, with another agency also abstaining as they had not read the document. The final copy of the JPO dated 14 October 2004 was distributed by email with a draft copy of a letter of endorsement for the agencies to sign and return to the MSG care of the JPO Officer by 31 October 2004. At the end of the project 22 letters of endorsement had been received.


The JPO briefing sessions started in the second part of the project (post November 15). The purpose of the JPO briefing sessions was to facilitate improved understanding of the JPO and related humanitarian issues in Liberia for staff, international and national, of INGOs. The briefing session was developed by the JPO Officer in consultation with members of the JPO working group, GAA the hosting agency and the ICRC. Contact was made with ICRC as some of the content of the briefing was in relation to International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

Initially it was planned that full day (6 hours) inter-agency briefings would be offered to members of the MSG. In addition, agencies were offered the option of requesting the JPO Officer to facilitate a specific agency session for their staff at their offices for either half or full day. The first three full day inter-agency sessions were offered in late November and early December. These were poorly attended, with only 24 participants. It was subsequently decided that both half (3 to 4 hour) and full day briefings would be offered to agencies and no subsequent inter-agency sessions would be offered in Monrovia.

The JPO briefings were held predominately in Monrovia, however, briefings were held in four (4) counties. Over 30% (146 out of 450) of participants of JPO briefings were staff of agencies working in Lofa (Voinjama), Bong (Gbargna and Totata), Nimba (Ganta) and Grand Gedeh (Zsewdru). Participants of the JPO briefings came from the INGO community, with the exception of four (4) staff from UNMIL Civil Military Cooperation (CIMIC). 450 participants from 20 INGOs participated in full or half day JPO briefings; this was out of a total of 22 agencies who had endorsed the JPO. Two briefings were provided to members of the LNGO community through LINNK but these were only of an hour in duration. Interestingly, five (5) agencies who did not endorse the JPO participated in a JPO briefing. Four (4) agencies sent staff to both full and half day JPO briefings. Of the 22 agencies who endorsed the JPO seven (7) did not request or attend a JPO briefing.

What became apparent from the JPO briefings, attended primarily by national staff of INGOs, was that there were a number of concerns or questions that national staff had that they either could not or would not raise in alternative agency forum. Such issues as 'when are we going to get justice?' 'why do agencies not report or do anything about human rights abuses?' In addition to providing further explanation regarding the JPO, the JPO briefings in effect were used to explain different types of agencies and their role in relation to government and the UN. The JPO briefings attempted to make the JPO relevant by linking the seven (7) JPO principles to Liberian parables and sayings. More could have been done in this area. Interestingly, most INGO staff did not know their agency mandate or mission statement, they did however, know what activities they undertook. None of the staff had heard of the Red Cross / NGO Code of Conduct in Disaster Relief. This is disturbing as most INGOs who were members of the MSG had signed that code as well.

It was acknowledged during a number of the briefings that the JPO demanded a lot from staff, in terms of national, their staff tribal and social obligations, the pressures that they receive to 'help' others from not just their family but tribe to get jobs (recruitment), or to not speak out about exploitation or abuse by colleagues, and how this put them in conflict with the JPO (and agency codes of conduct). It was raised by a few that there should not be these expectations upon them as they were unrealistic. Discussions around short term gain versus long term gain were held and how to deal with these issues, the 'Liberian way versus the agency way'(?!).


Negative/potential constraints:

- Most agencies do not do broad training across all levels of staff on principles or codes of conduct, half expressed interest in post- final JPO training;

- Time delays between draft of JPO in January 2004, workshop on 01 June 2004 and arrival of JPO Officer at the end of August 2004 lead to a decrease in momentum; therefore the JPO Officer had to re-build the momentum and interest. Ideally it would have been better to have the JPO Officer, workshop and first draft closer together to 'hit when the momentum and interest was already built by the JPO working group;

- The review and endorsement process took 5 weeks, this may have been too short a time period for agencies to have sufficient time to consider the document;

- A number of agencies did not forward the JPO to regional offices or headquarters for comments until the JPO went to the endorsement stage. This meant that comments from regional offices or headquarters were not received till after the document was agreed ready for endorsement, causing some agencies to endorse with reservation or not be able to endorse the JPO by the end of the project;

- Not many agencies were prepared to release staff from their work for a full day JPO Briefing;

- Endorsement of the JPO did not lead to subsequent requests for briefings, perhaps timing for release of staff or ' commitment' to the JPO;

- It seems that the short term and contractual nature of INGO employment contracts would not likely to engender loyalty or speaking out on exploitation or abuse, bribery and corruption against tribal or social obligations who they have to deal with on a long term basis, there also seemed to be resistance to the idea of taking it to INGO management but a number suggested that they would try and deal with it themselves;

- INGOs should improve the level of new staff orientation as with the exception of one INGO staff member out of the 450 who attended briefings no one could answer the question 'what is your agency mission statement'.


- to encourage involvement and acceptance of the JPO it was important that all agencies felt that their concerns were heard and included during the review, that they knew that the JPO Officer was not the Principles Police there to 'educate' them and the JPO was relevant to their stance and operational needs ;

- Most agencies felt that principles were intrinsic to their operations (it is noted that principles have been interpreted differently);

- There was interest from agencies in developing staff understanding of humanitarian issues, the JPO facilitated this;

- The linking of the principles to Liberian parables proved highly effective, as well as linking principles into their own culture and traditions, i.e. not external, it also gave them a way to help them to explain who they were to beneficiaries.

Relationship with other humanitarian actors

The INGO community in Liberia has grown significantly over the last several years. With the latest peace agreement in 2003 (the third) the international humanitarian community has grown significantly, as has the opening of a number local NGOs. In addition to the increased presence of international humanitarian personnel, there are over 14,300 United Nations Peacekeepers and 700 international civilian Police. Access to civilian populations has improved as well. However, increased international presence has brought new challenges for the INGO community. Competition for funding and 'clients' being one of them, a reduction in humanitarian space and at times problematic relationships with the UN.

The MSG represents about 33 INGOs; it specifically excludes those agencies working in the humanitarian sector that do not have charitable status in their home country. There is a weekly Humanitarian Action Committee where representatives of UN and INGO meet to discuss, as well as a number of different sectoral and geographical meetings. Meetings are held at County level as well as in the capital, Monrovia.


INGOs partner with a number of local organisations, NGOs, community based and government in a variety of activities. There are two local NGO coordinating bodies, NARDA and LINNK. LINNK was established with the support of OCHA in 2003/04. LINNK issued a letter of support for the JPO but did not endorse the document feeling that their members might not be able to adhere to all the principles in the JPO. However, this does give INGOs a tool to engage in improving relationships and understanding with Local NGOs going forward. There was also some criticism that the JPO should have been an international and local NGO consultative process.

United Nations

INGOs work with and collaborate with UN agencies on a number of projects particularly in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps. With the arrival of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) - the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the management of the UN in Liberia changed and perhaps with that the perceived relationship between INGOs and the UN. Under the auspices of the integrated mission UN political, humanitarian and military management was brought under the leadership of the SRSG. UN humanitarian agencies in addition to reporting to the SRSG also report and receive direction from their headquarters.

The presence of the UN peacekeepers has improved access (geographical humanitarian space) for INGOs, however, in addition to their security mandate, the peacekeepers also engaged in humanitarian activities as part of their 'hearts and minds strategy'. This concerned a number of INGOs who felt that potential protagonists, the peacekeepers, blurred the lines between military and humanitarian assistance and that the manipulation of humanitarian assistance for military objectives (and political) could endanger humanitarian actors in the future if they were either seen to be closely associated to UNMIL, or if the population could not differentiate between who was providing assistance and who was engaging in conflict.

During the project good links were made with UNMIL officials by the JPO Officer and INGOs were requested to forward to the JPO Officer any concerns or issues that they had regarding the integrated mission or issues of humanitarian space. However, no agency provided sufficient information for the JPO Officer to raise issues on official or unofficial levels with UNMIL.


- While there were good reasons to keep the review process of the JPO within the INGO / MSG community, it may in the future be prudent to invite a small number of representatives from the Local NGO community to participate;

- the INGOs had an opportunity to access UNMIL and to voice concerns regarding issues and this was taken up, perhaps a generic form could have been provided, or agencies felt that they could raise the issues themselves and did not need a third party to do so, or that there were not despite rhetoric, sufficient issues that needed to be raised;

Overall Lessons

The JPO process provided the INGO community with a unique tool to improve understanding of various issues key issues with national staff (and themselves from their staff). However, for some it might have been more similar to a 'tick the box' or 'peer pressure' exercise. The commitment of agencies varied considerably. It is seems that the JPO is not seen as an ethos for the agency, but as a programme initiative, however, the JPO could and should be more than that. It is in itself a code of conduct, it is also a tool to facilitate improved learning and understanding of humanitarian assistance. However, the link between the JPO and agency code of conduct needs to be made explicit by agencies themselves.

One such way of using the JPO as a tool can be illustrated by the JPO Officer's work with the OCHA Emergency Response Fund (ERF). The JPO Officer worked with ERF over a series of two (2) hour sessions to mainstream both JPO and DNH principles. The ERF funds international and national NGOs. The ERF team and the JPO Officer reviewed all project documentation, information sheets, funding application forms and documents and monitoring and evaluation forms to ensure that they conformed to JPO and DNH principles. A review of the Memorandum of Understanding was also completed by the team. The process took four (4) two hour sessions completed over a period of two months.

In summary, going forward, the JPO should not remain a 'forgotten' document to be dusted off every two or three years or at a time of crisis. It should be a key document in the orientation process of new and existing staff, it can be used as a practical tool to challenge the way agencies do things, to check and measure their activities, it should be linked to project documentation. It can and should be used as a tool for engagement with others, to explain despite the diversity who the INGOs in Liberia are, and used as a tool for advocacy. It should be used a cohesive not a dividing force. As with any code of conduct it has day to day applicability, not just for times of crisis. The challenge of INGOs in Liberia is to make the most of the JPO internally and externally.


1 NB - a comprehensive timeline / history of the JPO is not available.

2 Please refer to "The 'Joint Policy of Operation' and the 'Principles and Protocols of Humanitarian Operation' in Liberia",

3 "Announcement to Liberian People from the Major International NGOs operative in Liberia" Geneva 10 June 1996 (hardcopy), signed by ACF, Action Aid, Caritas Sweden & Germany, CRS, LWF/WS, MSF, Oxfam UK & Ireland, SCF, UMCOR and WV. Observers: International Committee of the Red Cross, ACT, African Commission of Health & Human Rights Promoters and World Council of Churches.

4 "International Non-Government Organisation Joint Statement on Liberia" addressed to the United Nations Security Council, European Union, the United States Agency for International Development and the International Community at large (hardcopy), signed by UMCOR, ACF, Action Aid, Caritas, Sweden, Germany & International, CRS, Action Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, WV, Oxfam, LWF/WS, SCF UK and MSF

5 "Liberia INGO Operating Principles Paper, " 8 August 1996 (hardcopy)