CP Coordination e-Course

Welcome to the Child Area of Responsibility's Child Protection Coordination e-Course!


This 12-week course highlights the critical need for coordinated interagency and inter-sectoral child protection responses and the harm that poor coordination may cause. The course will guide you through a critical examination of humanitarian coordination by exploring the challenges faced and lessons learnt of past and current interventions, helping you to review the multilateral instruments that have been established to address these challenges.

This course also focuses on how the responses of individual agencies and organisations can come together as a single, overall interagency response. Moreover it also builds on the skills required for effective coordination.

Introduction to the course

Course introduction

Aim of this course

The aim of this course is to equip you with an understanding of the benefits of a strong coordination mechanism, and what is required of CP Coordinators to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall CP response in emergencies.

In this course, you will review key concepts such as humanitarian reform, mandates of child protection actors, humanitarian principles, and programme planning and implementation in response to child protection needs. You will explore these issues within the context of interagency processes that lie at the heart of humanitarian coordination.

The most important set of skills you will learn in the course is how to engage effectively with child protection coordination mechanisms as a Child Protection Coordinator. Engaging with a coordination group requires strong skills in collaboration, facilitation and advocacy. In this course you will also unpack the various functions coordination groups are expected to fulfill and will practice carrying out a number of these, including drafting an interagency needs overview, response and monitoring plan. 

List of course modules

You will fulfil the objectives set out above by completing the following three module:

  • Module 1: Framework for humanitarian coordination
  • Module 2: Establishing coordination
  • Module 3: Core functions of child protection coordination mechanisms

Course objectives

This course is designed to enable you to:

  • Describe the main mechanisms for the coordination of humanitarian child protection responses, and explain how to establish coordination
  • Critically reflect upon past lessons learnt as well as contemporary challenges facing humanitarian coordination
  • Identify opportunities for mainstreaming child protection and advocating on child protection issues
  • Developing an interagency needs overview, response and monitoring plan


Assessment framework

The course assessment is closely linked to the course learning outcomes and includes two formative assignments and a summative assignment.


1: Framework for humanitarian coordination

2: Establishing coordination

3: Core functions of child protection coordination mechanisms

Learning Outcomes

Describe the main architecture behind humanitarian coordination and critically reflect upon lessons learnt in coordinating past emergency responses.

Participation (10%)

Describe how to establish coordination depending on the different child protection coordination mechanisms and given contexts.

Participation (10%)

Strengthen skills required to support key coordination functions, including developing an interagency response, monitoring, advocacy and fundraising plan.

Participation (30%)

 Assignment 1 (15%) (Formative)

 Assignment 2 (15%) (Formative)

 Assignment 3 (20%) (Summative)


Participation (50%)

Assignments (50%)

Assignments (50%)

You will be asked to undertake three assignments. There are two formative assignments (in Weeks Five and Seven respectively), and a  summative assignment due in the last week of this course.

Formative assignments (60%): These will be based on a group assignment. They will take the form of one assignment divided into two parts. The first part (Assignment 1) will have a deadline at the end of Week Six and the second part (Assignment 2) at the end of Week Eight. The progressive nature of this group assignment is aimed at allowing you to illustrate the skills that you have gained throughout the sessions. It is important to note that the weekly questions will guide you in applying the concepts for this group assignment. The first part of the group assignment (Assignment 1) will assess your capacity to map sectoral coordination mechanisms in a given context and identify opportunities for mainstreaming child protection.

The second part of the group assignment (Assignment 2) will consist of drafting an interagency child protection humanitarian needs overview, related to the inter-sectoral coordination mapping you carried out as groupwork.

Summative assignment (40%): This is Assignment 3, which you will complete on an individual basis. Assignment 3 will assess your capacity to think critically about the interagency humanitarian needs overview and draft a response and monitoring plan. The response and monitoring plan should illustrate that you have considered the specific mandates and roles and responsibilities of different actors and it should also reflect the complexity of an interagency child protection response. The summative assignment will be assigned in Week Ten and will be guided by the initial feedback from the group assignment.

Participation (50%)

Your participation during this course will be based upon your participation in weekly calls and exercises related to each week’s session (10% * 5).

Assessment Tips

The formative assignments (Assignments 1 and 2): The two formative assignments are group assignments, which are designed to be carried out through your small group. The first formative group assignment will be assigned after Week Five, to be submitted by the end of Week Six, and the second formative group assignment will be assigned after Week Seven, to be completed by the end of Week Eight.  

The summative assignment (Assignment 3): The summative assignment for this course is to be completed individually and not through your small group. The assignment is assigned at the end of Week Ten, leaving you with two weeks to work on the assignment before submission at the end of Week Twelve. Although there will be no weekly calls during this time or additional topic material for you to review, your facilitator will be available to answer questions and provide support where needed. Assignment 3 will be submitted to the facilitator for marking and shared with fellow participants in order for you to see what your peers have drafted and provide one another with feedback.

Weekly Schedule

Module One | Framework for humanitarian coordination

  • Week 1: What is humanitarian coordination, and why is it important? Given that this course is premised on an appreciation of humanitarian coordination and gaining the skills to offer effective support and engagement with coordination, an appropriate place to start is addressing the question of what ‘coordination’ means in the context of humanitarian assistance, and why it is important. In addition to exploring the rationale behind coordination, we explore the factors that respectively enable and disable effective coordination.
  • Week 2: How do actors coordinate in emergencies? The purpose of this session is to outline the mechanisms by means of which humanitarian actors coordinate with one another in emergency contexts. Since not all emergencies are the same, however, and not all emergencies call for the same coordination structure to be applied, this week’s session describes the different coordination models that are appropriate for different humanitarian situations.

Module Two | Establishing coordination

  • Week 3: How are child protection responses coordinated?The purpose of this session is to provide you with a more in-depth understanding of how child protection is coordinated in emergency contexts that have formally adopted the IASC cluster approach. 
  • Week 4:  How are inter-agency child protection coordination groups established?

Mode Three | Core functions of child protection coordination mechanisms

  • Week 5: How are needs assessed and analysed at an interagency level?
    -> first formative group assignment will be assigned
  • Week 6: How is response planning conducted at an interagency level?
    -> submit first formative group assignment
  • Week 7: How are funds raised and resources mobilised at the interagency level
    ->second formative group assignment will be assigned
  • Week 8: How is child protection mainstreamed and advocated for?
    -> submit second formative group assignment
  • Week 9: How are responses and performance monitored at interagency level?
  • Week 10:  How do coordination mechanisms transition after an emergency
    -> third assignment will be assigned
  • Week 11: Summative assignment
  • Week 12: Submission of summative assignment
    -> submit third assignment at the end of Week 12

Module 1: Framework for humanitarian coordination

Module Overview

The module begins by exploring the question of what humanitarian coordination is and what effective coordination means in an emergency. It then moves on to describe the factors that determine which type of coordination structure are applicable in which context. The sessions further explore this by providing examples of coordination structures in national responses and outline the architecture for international humanitarian response, providing historical background to explain why the structure evolved as it did and what lessons were learnt along the way.


If you want to walk fast, walk alone.

If you want to walk far, walk together.

– African proverb

Emergency contexts present a plethora of challenges with regard to the delivery of aid. The coordination of humanitarian assistance is one of the ways in which some of these challenges are addressed. Coordination plays a central role in the delivery of humanitarian assistance; getting the coordination aspect of a response right is tantamount to an effective and efficient emergency response that adequately addresses the needs of those affected.

What, however, does humanitarian coordination entail? How do we know if coordination has been effective? And what do coordination structures look like? To answer these questions, this unit moves from discussing the rationale behind humanitarian coordination and identifying enabling and disabling factors for effective coordination, to exploring the various structures that exist for humanitarian coordination at the level of the nation state as well as in the international arena.

Module 1 is designed to enable you to:

  • Describe different types of humanitarian coordination mechanisms and the contexts in which they apply.
  • Describe the structure of the UN humanitarian coordination architecture and its roots.
  • Identify key enabling and disabling factors for coordination in humanitarian contexts.
  • Critically reflect upon past lessons learnt as well as contemporary challenges facing humanitarian coordination.

Week 1: What is humanitarian coordination, and why is it important?


Even though humanitarian coordination is widely referred to in literature about humanitarian assistance, definitions of coordination vary and to date there is no holistically agreed-upon definition among humanitarian actors (ICVA 2013; Van Wassenhove 2006). Furthermore, while the UN has been working towards formalising humanitarian coordination structures and improving responses since its inception after World War II, and much has been written in the sector particularly in evaluation of past humanitarian responses, there is currently no prevailing analytical framework to apply to humanitarian coordination.

In what follows, we therefore explore the definitions that are currently in use for humanitarian coordination as well as a taxonomy of coordination that was developed in the early 1990s and which still has relevance today. After exploring what coordination means in the humanitarian context, we look at what it means for coordination to be effective, and which factors are enabling or disabling to this end.

This session is designed to enable you to:

  • Describe what humanitarian coordination is and explain why it is important.
  • Describe incentives that encourage humanitarian actors to coordinate in emergencies.
  • Identify enabling and disabling factors for effective humanitarian coordination.


1.1.Humanitarian coordination


Both the number and type of actors engaging in humanitarian responses has changed over the past years. Whereas previously there were only a small number of humanitarian actors responding to crises – for example, during the Nigerian Civil War in the 1960s – there has been a steady increase over the years. For example, in contrast to the crisis in Biafra, the Kosovo crises in the 1990s had over 400 humanitarian actors – that is to say, humanitarian organisations – involved. More recently, such as in the past five years, some emergency contexts have had thousands of actors involved with the response; one such example is Haiti in 2010, where over 10,000 NGOs were registered.

In terms of the type of actors engaging with responses, this too has changed: from the traditional actors providing humanitarian aid, to include (increasingly) military actors and private-sector companies. This increase in the sheer number of humanitarian actors as well as an increase in the diversity of the actors involved with the delivery of assistance has increased the importance of coordination in emergency contexts and created new challenges for humanitarian coordination.

Definitions of coordination

Despite the fact that coordination is recognised to be of great importance, there is currently no commonly agreed upon definition of coordination in use among humanitarian actors. In fact some scholars have gone as far as to say that coordination is ‘a term that is much used, abused, and misunderstood’ (Donini 1996: 12). 

Broadly speaking, definitions of coordination can be categorised into two types. On the one hand, there are definitions that focus only on the organisational aspect of coordination, viewing coordination as “‘the orchestration of efforts of diverse organizations’ (Seybolt 1997: 4) and the ‘orderly and organised direction of activities’ (McEntire 1997: 223)” (De Siervo, G. 2012 in Guttry, Gestri and Venturini (eds)). On the other hand, however, there are definitions that emphasise the outcomes of coordination instead of the act itself. One such definition, often cited in literature about emergency response, comes from the Humanitarianism and War Project and sees coordination as the ‘systematic utlization of policy instruments to deliver humanitarian assistance in a cohesive and effective manner’ (SIDA and HPCR 2008). This latter group of definitions is more in line with the one we use in this course.

OCHA – the body formally mandated by the UN General Assembly to coordinate humanitarian affairs – defines coordination as ‘an approach based on the belief that a coherent response to an emergency will maximize its benefits and minimize potential pitfalls’ (IASC 2011: 32). Overall, ‘humanitarian coordination seeks to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response by ensuring greater predictability, accountability and partnership’ (OCHA 2014c).

Coordination, argues OCHA, is an approach that includes a number of functions including: ‘developing common strategies with partners both within and outside the UN system, identifying overall humanitarian needs, developing a realistic plan of action, monitoring progress and adjusting programmes as necessary, convening coordination forums, mobilising resources, addressing common problems to humanitarian actors, and administering coordination mechanisms and tools’ (IASC 2011: 32).

Coordination, in other words, is a means to an end; it is a not a goal in and of itself (IASC 2013). This means that we do not coordinate in emergencies simply for the sake of coordinating; rather, we coordinate in order to improve the effectiveness of the response.

Different forms of coordination

A framework that we can apply in order to analyse different forms of coordination is the taxonomy developed by Antonio Donini in 1994 after the 1994 Rwanda crisis. Coordination situations, Donini suggests, fall into three broad categories (Donini 1996: 14):

1. Coordination by command: coordination in which strong leadership is accompanied by some sort of authority, whether ‘carrot’ or ‘stick’.

2. Coordination by consensus: coordination in which leadership is essentially a function of the capacity to orchestrate a coherent response and mobilise the key actors around common objectives and priorities. Consensus in this instance is normally achieved without any direct assertion of authority by the coordinator.

3. Coordination by default: coordination that, in the absence of a formal coordination entity, involves only the most rudimentary exchanges of information and division of labour among the actors. 

Instead of discrete categories, however, these three typologies can be viewed as points on a continuum, with most coordination situations falling between these, embodying a mix of characteristics.

We will come back to these three typologies later, when we look at how actors coordinate. For now, let’s continue by exploring the question of effectiveness.

1.2 Six words

In no more than six words, provide a definition for “humanitarian coordination.”

You can write your six-word message in a variety of ways:

  • a six-word phrase or story, 
  • six words separated by commas, 
  • six rhyming words, 
  • or any other format that you invent.

1.3 Effective coordination and the effects of strong and weak coordination

What does ‘effective’ coordination mean?

If humanitarian coordination is about improving the effectiveness of the emergency response through greater predictability, accountability and partnership, how do we know if coordination has been ‘effective’?

In order to be called ‘effective’, humanitarian coordination should (among other things):

  • Maximise use of available resources.
  • Help to deal with a multiplicity of actors.
  • Enable aid workers to work with limited resources.
  • Help aid workers to avoid the politicisation of aid.
  • Support aid workers in avoiding gaps and duplications.

The effects of strong and weak coordination

Weak or poor coordination in humanitarian contexts can have devastating effects.

"Uncoordinated responses lead to duplication, confusion, increased expenses, inefficient use of resources, inappropriate aid and sometimes fatally result in disaster affected persons not receiving the right aid at the right time, delivered in the right way"(Fischer 2007, cited in Reinecke 2010: 144). 

If coordination is not effective, this will take its toll on the very people we are there to serve.

There are numerous examples of inappropriate humanitarian responses as a result of weak coordination. John Telford and John Cosgrave (2006) highlight a few examples in an evaluation they carried out of the Indian Ocean tsunami response. The examples of inappropriate aid they encountered included: the distribution of ski jackets to affected populations in Indonesia and heavy sweaters in Sri Lanka; the delivery of tens of metric tons of expired medicine for the health response in Indonesia; the distribution of tinned pork to Muslims in Banda Aceh; and the inclusion of expired food in the food aid deliveries in Indonesia (2006: 42).

De Silva (2007) reflects upon the impact that uncoordinated aspects of the humanitarian response had in Sri Lanka, highlighting the degree to which this can even fuel tensions and violence:

"The hyperactive scamper to deliver tsunami recovery in Sri Lanka in a short period of time at high speed resulted in decisions that had little or no concern for the participation and representation of affected communities, particularly those disadvantaged. The mismatch between macro-decisions and local requirements led to inconsistencies between post-tsunami recovery interventions and their corresponding needs and requirements on the ground. The inefficient system of delivery, mismanagement and poor coordination of resource utilisation, wastage of aid, lack of central control, accountability and transparency resulted in increasing ethnic tension among the three affected ethnic groups who were not sufficiently and timely supported by the recovery process. The inability to harness participation of affected communities in an effective manner led to a feeling of dejection, social exclusion and greater inequalities in the communities. The sharp increase in violence between various factions and groups also contributed to a loss of faith in the democratic process as a rational means to alleviate the misery caused by the tsunami in Ampara District of Sri Lanka." (De Silva 2007 cited in Oberhauser and Johnston-Anumonwo 2014: 186)

At the same time, coordination can be powerful in a humanitarian response when carried out well. Through a coordinated approach, there should be less duplication, less wastage of resources, better allocation of resources and fewer gaps in geographical and sectoral response coverage (Chatterjee et al. 2010).

So, to come back to the question we began with, we know that coordination has been effective when the desired outcomes, in terms of the needs of the affected population being addressed, have been achieved. Valerie Amos, the current UN emergency relief coordinator (ERC), goes so far as to say: ‘effective coordination is the hidden force multiplier in emergency response’ (OCHA 2012: 5). 

And the humanitarian response review (HRR) conducted by OCHA in 2005 found that almost 70% of donors identified strong coordination as the number one element required to improve the performance of the global humanitarian system (Reinecke 2010: 147).

In fact, coordination is deemed so essential to emergency responses that it is embedded in the Red Cross and Red Crescent Code of Conduct, which encourages agencies to make all efforts to ensure the effective coordination of their own services.

Coordination is also a core Standard in both the Sphere Standards (Sphere Project 2011) and the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (CPWG 2012c).

1.4 Disabling factors for effective coordination

Disabling factors for effective coordination: Reindorp and Wiles (2001) and Telford and Cosgrave (2006), among others, point out the following factors that have been shown to be disabling for effective coordination:

  • High number and diversity of actors (this increases the cost of coordination and reduces its effectiveness).
  • Competition for funds among agencies.
  • Different mandate of agencies and different organisational values.
  • Lack of agency staff commitment to coordinated outcomes.
  • Weak leadership.
  • Vested interests on the part of leadership.
  • Lack of accountability structures, and unclear reporting lines.
  • Mistrust among agencies.
  • Language barriers.
  • Gaps in information and/or inaccurate data.
  • Lack of mutual understanding due to the diversity of actors.
  • Insufficient commitment to coordination at all levels.
  • Lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities of actors.

1.5 Case study: Indian Ocean Tsunami

Challenges of coordination: The example of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, 2004

A massive earthquake off the west coast of Northern Sumatra in December 2004 led to a series of tsunamis.  Over 227 000 people lost their lives and some 1.7 million were displaced across 14 countries. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, India and Thailand were the hardest hit. A massive media-fuelled global response resulted, producing an estimated US$13.5 billion in international aid. Evaluations of the response found numerous examples of poor coordination. Three issues stood out:

  • The huge number of agencies involved made coordination more expensive and less effective.
  • Generous funding (especially private) reduced agencies’ needs to coordinate.
  • The perceived need for quick, tangible, agency-specific results fuelled competition for visibility, ‘beneficiaries’ and projects.

The reasons for the weak coordination were found to be complex, but included the following:

  • The UN’s role is one of coordination without having direct authority over the other actors. In the tsunami response, the number of actors to be coordinated made coordination a ‘Herculean task’.
  • Support and funding for coordination were often in short supply. While funds for coordination were made available in the flash appeal, neither immediate start-up nor subsequent (recovery phase) funds were guaranteed.
  • The lack of continuity, skills and experience among some senior UN coordinators posed problems (for example, poor meeting management skills). Their lack of personal authority denied OCHA the authority to coordinate.
  • NGOs were insufficiently represented in many coordination bodies and coordinated poorly among themselves.

The military also played a key role in the disaster response. However, as there is little joint planning and training between military and humanitarian actors, field coordination between them was found to be weak. NutritionWorks (2011: 5)


Exercise instructions:

Please drag and drop the relevant disabling factors for a coordinated response, next to the matching numbered check mark as highlighted in the case study above. Please put the discarded responses next to the matching numbered "x", so that "1" is matched with "1" and "2" is matched with "2". 

  • 1. High number & diversity of actors
  • 1. Clear reporting lines
  • 2. Weak leadership
  • 2. High levels of trust

1.6 Enabling factors for effective coordination

Enabling factors for effective coordination: Factors that enable effective coordination are factors that counter or address the obstacles presented above. These include, among others:

  • Agency staff commitment to coordinated outcomes.
  • High levels of trust among agencies.
  • Incentives for sharing information on mutual experiences and existing initiatives.
  • Involvement of key actors with decision-making power.
  • A focus on people in need.
  • Clear reporting lines.
  • Clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  • Agency staff commitment to coordinated outcomes.
  • Support and funding for coordination structures and tasks.
  • Solutions to language barriers.

The first factor, the issue of commitment, is the most salient. ‘No structures or incentives can compensate for lack of commitment to an effective, coordinated response to the needs of beneficiaries’ (Reindorp and Wiles 2001: iv).

It must be noted, however, that often the more complex the operating environment, the more difficult it is to ensure effective coordination. Minear (2002) reminds us that coordination can be the ‘soft underbelly of humanitarian response’ – so we need to ensure that we are doing all that we can to enable it to be as effective as possible.

1.7 Case study: DRC

This case study was developed to highlight the value of the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. At the same time, it also highlights enabling factors of interagency coordination.

"War Child Holland co-leads the Child Protection Working Group in South Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, together with UNICEF. Marie-Louise Ruhamya Masawa, Project Supervisor at War Child Holland, explains some of the child protection issues in the DRC context and how the CPMS have improved programming:

'We’ve been using the CPMS since they became available in French in 2013. The first thing you should understand is the size of South Kivu province and the scale of the child protection issues we face.'

South Kivu is a large province – over 65,000 km2, bordering Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. It has a population of nearly 6 million.

Armed conflict, violence and population movement continue to dominate the humanitarian context across the DRC. In 2016, more than 1.5 million people were displaced. Permanent insecurity in some areas, including the destruction and looting of schools and hospitals has impacted children’s ability to access basic goods and services. Child protection is a major concern, with high numbers of children still active in armed groups (at least 3,240 confirmed, UNICEF), and cases of sexual and gender–based violence are reported on a daily basis (UNICEF).

'The South Kivu Child Protection Working Group is very active – we have a lot to do! Members are primarily small, local NGOs. We meet once a month. Coordination is challenging, both between child protection groups and other humanitarian actors. The CPMS are really helping us to improve our work. Before 2013, I admit that coordination was poor. The best we managed was to identify others working on child protection in the same zone, but we really didn’t communicate or collaborate well at all. Now, thanks to the CPMS, we undertake a systematic mapping of providers and services available in each community. This saves time and avoids duplication of efforts. For example, unaccompanied children fostered by War Child-supported families, are automatically referred to the ICRC. Children who attend Child Friendly Spaces are assessed and those in need of psychosocial support are referred to a local NGO responsible for providing those services. We used the CPMS as a basis to develop guidelines for local actors on how to set up Child Friendly Spaces, and how to develop and support a local network of child protection actors. Right now we’re working out how to kick off the contextualization process at provincial level – specifically looking at how the standards can be adapted to our local context and the needs of the large populations of IDP and refugee children.'

'Case management has been vastly improved by using the CPMS”, says Marie-Louise. “Before 2013, organizations belonging to the South Kivu Child Protection Working Group didn’t have a shared system, if they had any system at all! In practice, this meant that we ended up searching for the details of a service user only a few months after an intervention and they no longer existed in the system. Now, following the CPMS, all child protection actors in the province use the same registration forms and collect the same information about each child they see.'

...'As for community-based mechanisms, they are crucial to our work', confirms Marie-Louise. 'It simply wouldn’t be possible to meet the needs of the children in our communities without engaging local actors. Again, the CPMS have enabled us to structure our efforts – to reinvigorate community actors with training and support."

Source: Alliance CPMS DRC Case Study


Exercise instructions:

Please drag and drop the relevant enabling factors for a coordinated response,  as highlighted in the case study above, next to the matching numbered check mark. Please put the discarded responses next to the matching numbered "x", so that "1" is matched with "1" and "2" is matched with "2". 

  • 1. Clarity on roles and responsibilities
  • 1. Language barriers
  • 2. Commitment to coordinated outcomes
  • 2. Mistrust among agencies

1.8 Reflection exercise for week 1

Reflect upon the experiences you have had in either a humanitarian or a non-humanitarian context and take time to think through the following two questions:

  1. What does coordination mean to you?
  2. Which skills and competencies do you think are the most important for coordinators?

1.9 Preparation for your weekly call

Week 2: How do actors coordinate in emergencies?


The purpose of this session is to outline the mechanisms by means of which humanitarian actors coordinate with one another in emergency contexts. Since not all emergencies are the same and not all emergencies call for the same coordination structure to be applied, this week’s session describes the different coordination models that are appropriate for different humanitarian situations.

This session is designed to enable you to:

  • Identify the factors that determine what kind of coordination structure is applicable in an emergency.
  • Provide examples of different types of national coordination structures for emergency responses.
  • Describe the structure of the UN humanitarian coordination architecture and its roots.
  • Explain why the UN humanitarian coordination architecture was established and what it entails.


  • Adinolfi, C., D. Bassiouni, H. Lauritzen and H. Williams. 2005. Humanitarian Response Review. New York: UNOCHA.
  • Harvey, P. 2009. Towards Good Humanitarian Government: The Role of the Affected State in Disaster Response. London: Overseas Development Institute. www.odi.org.uk/publications/4196-good-humanitarian-government-affected-state-disaster-response (accessed on 20 April 2013).
  • Hoyer, B. 2009. ‘Lessons from the Sichuan earthquake’. Humanitarian Exchange 43. www.odihpn.org/humanitarian-exchange-magazine/issue-43/lessons-from-the-sichuan-earthquake (accessed on 2 November 2014).
  • IFRC (International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies). 2007. Law and Legal Issues in International Disaster Response: A Desk Study. Geneva: IFRC. (Read pages 89–93.)
  • Labbe, J., L. Fan and W. Kemp. 2013. Cooperation from Crisis? Regional Responses to Humanitarian Emergencies. New York: International Peace Institute (IPI).
  • OCHA. 2012. Key Messages: The IASC Transformative Agenda. www.alnap.org/resource/9573 (accessed on 2 November 2014).
  • Price, G. and M. Bhatt. 2009. The Role of the Affected State in Humanitarian Action: A Case Study on India. HPG Working Paper. London: Overseas Development Institute.
  • Rencoret, N., A. Stoddard, K. Haver, G. Taylor and P. Harvey. 2010. Haiti Earthquake Response: Context Analysis. London: Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP).
  • Streets, J., F. Grünewald, A. Binder, V. de Geoffroy, D. Kauffmann, S. Krüger et al. 2010. Cluster Approach Evaluation 2: Synthesis Report. IASC Cluster Approach Evaluation, 2nd Phase, April 2010. Urgence Réhabilitation Développement (URD) and Global Public Policy Institute (GPPI). www.urd.org/IMG/pdf/GPPi-URD_Synthese_EN.pdf (accessed on 2 November 2014).
  • Wisner, B. and P. Walker. 2005. ‘Katrina and Goliath. Why the greatest military and economic power in the world didn’t protect New Orleans’. Humanitarian Exchange 32: 46–47. London: Overseas Development Institute.

2.1 Factors that determine what kind of coordination structure is appropriate with the corresponding questions

2.1 Factors that determine what kind of coordination structure is appropriate

In terms of UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (of December 1991), each state has the responsibility first and foremost to take care of the victims of natural disasters and other emergencies occurring on its territory. Hence, the affected state has the primary role in the initiation, organisation, coordination, and implementation of humanitarian assistance within its territory.

As the General Assembly Resolution stipulates, the ultimate responsibility for the delivery and coordination of humanitarian assistance rests with the authority in charge of the affected state. This may be a national government or an occupying power. In addition to the delivery and coordination of emergency responses, as already mentioned, states have the responsibility to ‘call’ a crisis and invite international aid if required and to set the regulatory and legal frameworks governing assistance (Harvey 2009: 2).

A typology of nation state roles for emergency response

Paul Harvey (2009) presents an useful typology for analysing the role of the nation state in emergency response, suggesting that the following three broad categories exist:

  1. States where there is an existing or emerging social contract between the state and its citizens, by which the state undertakes to assist and protect them in the face of disasters.
  2. States that are weak and have extremely limited capacity and resources to meet their responsibilities to assist and protect their citizens in the face of disasters.
  3. States that lack the will to negotiate a resilient social contract, including assisting and protecting their citizens in times of disaster.

When we explore the coordination architecture of national humanitarian responses, we are referring primarily to countries that fall under the first category above. In this week’s session, we will also explore countries that are in the second and third categories, although international assistance is also provided in countries that have a strong social contract with their citizens, but where the scale of the emergency overwhelms their ability to respond without outside support.

Context of contextualization

The shape that humanitarian coordination takes varies according to different emergency contexts. The factors that determine what kind of coordination structure is appropriate and most suited to the context include:

  1. Type of emergency: Is it a natural disaster or a complex emergency? Or both?
  2. Impact type: Is the emergency rapid onset or protracted in nature?
  3. Government stance: What is the stance of the government towards the affected population and the response organisations?
  4. Emergency size: What is the estimated size of the affected population?
  5. Government strength: The national government has the mandate to respond to the emergency, but does it have adequate capacity?

The diagram above is adapted from a diagram from the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

Depending on the size of the emergency and its impact, the stance of the government towards the affected population and the strength of the government to address the needs resulting from the emergency, a different type of coordination structure is appropriate. 

Examples of options of national humanitarian response coordination structures

The government may respond to a given emergency on its own together with national civil society, it may request support from the international community to respond, or it may neither respond nor request support – in which case the international community may step in to provide humanitarian assistance regardless. The cluster approach may be adopted by the humanitarian country team (HCT), it may be a refugee response under the mandate of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), or it may be a national emergency response with sectoral coordination groups.

Examples of a national response where there was no international request for help is the 2008 flooding in the Indian state of Bihar, or the response to the flooding in Mozambique in 2007. Examples of an emergency that overwhelmed the national capacity to respond and in which there was an appeal for international assistance include the Haitian earthquake in 2010, and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Note that, as mentioned above, there are also times when the international humanitarian community responds without the invitation of the national government, which is less frequently the case but one we will also look into. These are also instances where the government may or may not have the capacity to respond to the emergency but, more to the point, is unwilling to do so.

Check your understanding: match each factor that determine what kind of coordination structure is appropriate with the corresponding questions

  • Emergency Type
    Is it a natural disaster or a complex emergency? Or both?
  • Impact Type
    Is the emergency rapid onset or protracted in nature?
  • Government Stance
    What is the stance of the government towards the affected population and the response organisations?
  • Emergency Size
    What is the estimated size of the affected population?
  • Government Strength
    The national government has the mandate to respond to the emergency, but does it have adequate capacity?

2.2 Factors that influence the shape of coordination structures in-country as mentioned in the case study

2.2 Factors that influence the shape of coordination structures in-country

The mechanisms that governments have at their disposal, to carry out and coordinate emergency responses in-country, differ from one context to another. Factors that influence the shape that these coordination structures take in-country include: the wealth of the government, the technical expertise available, the government type, the country’s risk profile, that is, the type and frequency of emergencies that affect the country (Haddow, Bullock and Coppola 2010).

Five main differences that Haddow et al. (2010) explore are:

  • Where within the national government they are located (for example, as a stand-alone department, or within a line ministry).
  • Their authority to manage and coordinate in disaster response (for example, whether they have statutory powers).
  • The size of their budgets, including the amount the office is able to receive in case of an emergency.
  • The capacity of their staff (for example, level of training in emergency management).
  • The assets they can mobilise in the event of an emergency.

Check your understanding: click on the factors that influence the shape of coordination structures in Mozambique as mentioned in the following case study:

Mozambique has recently developed multi-level coordination mechanisms and a decentralised model for disaster response. The National Institute for Disaster Management is part of the government’s Ministry of State Administration. It coordinates ministries and regional directorates and ten provincial councils for emergencies. In addition, a stakeholders’ forum – which includes local civil society organisations, the UN, the Red Cross and Red Crescent family, and NGOs –functions at the national, regional and local levels. These mechanisms worked together to develop a contingency plan as part of an overall disaster risk reduction framework. While flooding in 2001 killed over 700 people, in 2007, when flooding of similar nature (if slightly lesser magnitude) affected the country, fewer than 20 people lost their lives (UNISDR and UNOCHA 2008).

2.3 National disaster management agencies

Many countries around the world have national disaster management agencies or similar government departments that are in charge of emergency preparedness planning, responding in the event of an emergency and coordinating responses in-country. It is the role of these government departments or offices of emergency management to carry out emergency preparedness actions and to manage, as the name suggests, the in-country emergency response. Given that an emergency response involves a whole host of other government departments or agencies, usually including the Department of Health, Department of Social Welfare, and Department of Public Works, among others, it is the role of the disaster or emergency management office to coordinate this range of government agencies.

Although the exact number of countries that have national disaster management structures is not known, according to the UNISDR (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) there has been ‘a significant growth in the number of states that have set up national disaster management authorities [and] civil protection systems’ (OCHA 2012: 14). These national-level government offices have significant differences across different countries. 

Location of emergency management offices

With regard to where the emergency management office sits within the overall government structure at the national level, InterWorks (1998) describes three different models, which are illustrated below.

Although each structure has merits and different contexts have different needs, specialists that have compared disaster management structures of different countries tend to highlight the advantages of structures where the disaster management office is located within the prime minister’s or president’s office, as he/she has more power to enforce decisions than a minister in a line ministry (InterWorks 1998).

Many national emergency response systems are centred on a ‘command’ type of coordination, built upon clear hierarchies or linkages between administrative levels and authoritarian decision-making. This comes as a contrast to the coordination situations we find with the UN architecture for international humanitarian coordination, which is centred more on ‘consensus building’ than on ‘command’ (as we discuss later).

Layers of emergency management offices

Emergency management offices are in many cases multi-tiered and can include locally, regionally and/or nationally based structures. Most countries have an office at the national level that manages emergency situations; only some have regional structures, and few have local-level structures for emergency management.

Examples of countries with regionally based structures for emergency management include Belarus, France and Germany, while countries with locally based structures include Brazil, New Zealand, Switzerland and the UK (Haddow et al. 2010).

In Pakistan and India, the emergency management authority is called the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and it has representation at provincial and district levels. In the US, this agency is called the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and in China the coordination body is called the Emergency Management Office (EMO).

In the case of the EMO in China, which was established in 2005, it has structures at provincial and city levels and the authority to coordinate government agencies responding to the emergency such as, among others: the Ministry of Civil Affairs, which leads on natural disaster relief, the Ministry of Health, which is the executive agency for health awareness and service provision, and the Ministry of Public Security, which leads on law enforcement. Depending on the size of the emergency, the appropriate EMO level is activated, which can be one of four levels: local, city, province and state council level (Bai cited in McEntire, Gilmore Crocker and Peters 2010).

Example of child protection coordination within national disaster management agencies or within a line ministry

In Pakistan, the responsibility for the coordination of child protection lies within the NDMA at national-level and with the at Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) at the provincial level.

In the Philippines, on the other hand, even though a disaster management authority exists (the Office of Civil Defence), a National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has been created. The responsibility for the coordination of sectoral responses is designated to different government departments. For protection and child protection, this responsibility lies with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). 

2.4 Reflection exercise 1 for week 2

Consider a humanitarian context that you are well familiar with and respond to the following questions / prompts:

  • Which scenario best describes the context you have in mind?: 1) 

    States where there is an existing or emerging social contract between the state and its citizens, by which the state undertakes to assist and protect them in the face of disasters; 2) 

    States that are weak and have extremely limited capacity and resources to meet their responsibilities to assist and protect their citizens in the face of disasters; and 3) States that lack the will to negotiate a resilient social contract, including assisting and protecting their citizens in times of disaster (Harvey).

  • Using these 5 factors, describe the context you have in mind: 1) 

    Type of emergency; 2) Impact type; 3) Government stance; 4) Emergency size; and 5) Government strength (ICVA).

  • Briefly describe the factors that influence the shape of coordination structures in-country: 1) 

    Where within the national government they are located (within the prime minister’s or president’s office, line ministry or no single disaster management structure);

     2) Their authority to manage and coordinate in disaster response; 3) 

    The size of their budgets, including the amount the office is able to receive in case of an emergency; 4) 

    The capacity of their staff (for example, level of training in emergency management); and 5) 

    The assets they can mobilise in the event of an emergency (Haddow et al; Interworks).

  • At what layers are the emergency management offices active at?: Emergency management offices are in many cases multi-tiered and can include locally, regionally and/or nationally based structures.

2.5 International coordination of humanitarian responses: UN humanitarian coordination architecture

The current framework and guiding principles for international humanitarian coordination are based on the UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182, adopted on 19 December 1991, ‘Strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian emergency assistance of the United Nations’. The General Assembly Resolution 46/182 states:

  • The magnitude and duration of many emergencies may be beyond the response capacity of many affected countries. International cooperation to address emergency situations and to strengthen the response capacity of affected countries is thus of great importance. Such cooperation should be provided in accordance with international law and national laws. Intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations working impartially and with strictly humanitarian motives should continue to make a significant contribution in supplementing national efforts.
  • States whose populations are in need of humanitarian assistance are called upon to facilitate the work of these organisations in implementing humanitarian assistance, in particular the supply of food, medicines, shelter and health care, for which access to victims is essential.
  • The UN has a central and unique role to play in providing leadership and coordinating the efforts of the international community to support the affected countries.

In other words, when the government of an affected state is unable or unwilling to attend to the humanitarian needs of the affected population, the UN General Assembly (GA) Resolution, also known as the ‘humanitarian resolution’, assigns this responsibility – of ‘put[ing] some order in this phenomenally challenging environment’ (Parisetti 2010: 5) – to the United Nations.

The GA Resolution 46/182 (1991) was adopted to address weaknesses on the part of the international humanitarian community to effectively deliver and coordinate humanitarian aid. The 1990 Gulf War and the ineffective response to the Kurdish refugee crisis on the border between Iraq and Turkey highlighted the ‘need for a dedicated and more empowered humanitarian coordination entity’ (OCHA 2012a: 2). The Kurdish refugee crisis brought to the fore issues that included the lack of clarity around mandates to respond to internally displaced persons (IDPs), challenges in coordination with military actors, and the time-critical nature of establishing coordination mechanisms and having clear leads for coordination agreed. Even though emergency responses of the past had taught the international community similar lessons, it is said that the Gulf War crisis informed the drafting and adopting of GA Resolution 46/182.

Despite earlier attempts at creating a framework for the coordination of humanitarian actors, these were not successful (Davey, Borton and Foley 2013: 11; Donini 1996; OCHA 2012a). In 1971, for example, the Office of the UN Disaster Relief Coordinator (UNDRO) was created under GA Resolution 2816 'to mobilise, direct and coordinate relief’; but UNDRO failed to be an effective mobiliser and coordinator (Reindorp and Wiles 2001).

Why did UNDRO not succeed? Some accounts, for example Parisetti (2010), suggest that UNDRO did not succeed because it was given the role as an ‘executive’ coordinator, derived from the military’s approach to coordination, which meant it adopted a style of directing partners during the emergency response. It may come as no surprise that this was frowned upon by a number of actors. Parisetti (2010: 5) notes that ‘UNDRO eked out an existence characterized by opposition and resentment on the part of a community of fiercely independent peers’. Others highlight the fact that UNDRO had limited financial and personnel capacities and as a result was always overshadowed by separate coordination mechanisms that were established in parallel (OCHA 2012a).

The UN aimed to address these issues by adopting the 1991 GA Resolution 46/182 (1991). The Resolution identified that ‘there is no legal or moral basis to say that, within the humanitarian community, one member has more authority than the others. Size, or mandate, may have been assumed in the past to be a viable basis to justify an executive coordinator role for a certain organization, but this has never worked’ (Parisetti 2010: 6). This is potentially part of the rationale behind the establishment of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) in the GA Resolution, in an effort to bring a wide range of actors on board to support joint decision-making and the development of interagency guidance.

In addition to the IASC, the GA Resolution 46/182 (1991) laid down a number of other cornerstones in the architecture of international humanitarian coordination, including the role of: the emergency relief coordinator (ERC), the consolidated appeals process (CAP), the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, which in 2005 became the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA), which in 1998 transformed into the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

2.6 Reforming the UN architecture for coordination

Since the 1991 GA Resolution was adopted, the international humanitarian coordination architecture has undergone a series of reforms, in response to the changing nature of emergencies and lessons learnt from past humanitarian responses. There are two reform processes, in particular, that we will touch upon in this week’s session, as they are the most recent and important for us to be aware of as humanitarian actors. The first is referred to as the humanitarian reform agenda and the second as the transformative agenda.

The humanitarian reform agenda

There was a growing, widespread recognition that changes were needed due to ‘more and more humanitarian actors, greater competition for funding and resources, increased public scrutiny and the changing role of the United Nations’ (Child Frontiers and CPWG 2010: 5). The reform process that took place drew heavily upon the findings of an independent review of the global humanitarian system, which was carried out in 2005. Dissatisfied with the international community’s response to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region, Jan Egeland, the ERC at the time, commissioned what would be known as the humanitarian response review (HRR).

The HRR assessed the humanitarian response capacities of the UN, NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and other key actors, and highlighted a number of shortcomings within the humanitarian system, making 36 concrete recommendations for changes to improve the effectiveness of the system (Adinolfi et al. 2005). A number of the HRR’s recommendations formed the bedrock of the humanitarian reform agenda, which was rolled out later in 2005. Broadly speaking, the humanitarian reform agenda has three main areas or pillars, namely:

  • Strengthening strategic leadership through the humanitarian coordinator system.
  • More adequate, flexible and timely humanitarian financing.
  • Improving coordination of sectoral responses through the cluster approach.

A fourth, cross-cutting element is that of establishing stronger humanitarian partnerships among and between humanitarian actors.

1. Leadership: Humanitarian coordinators

With regard to the second pillar or area of humanitarian reform, it is about improving leadership through Humanitarian Coordinators (HCs). Humanitarian Coordinators are the most senior UN officials in a country affected by a humanitarian emergency. HCs are appointed by the ERC when a new emergency strikes, or a humanitarian situation worsens in degree or complexity.

Depending on the size and scale of the emergency, the role of the HC is either taken forward by a newly appointed HC or it is fulfilled by the existing UN resident coordinator (RC), who is most often the UNDP representative in-country. Identifying that there are emergencies that will exceed the abilities of the RC to handle effectively and that specific leadership and coordination skills are central to this important role, has led to the ‘development of a roster of highly experienced and trained individuals to take on the role of the HC’ (Child Frontiers and CPWG 2010: 6).

Acknowledging that the HC’s role needs to be facilitated by actors on the ground, the IASC agreed upon additional measures to improve the effectiveness of this important role. The Child Protection in Emergencies Coordinator’s Handbook (Child Frontiers and CPWG 2010: 6) outlines these measures, which include:

A commitment to coordination at the field level by humanitarian partners.

  • Greater transparency in the appointment of HCs.
  • Training and induction to prepare and support HCs taking on the role.
  • Support for HCs in their leadership role

2. Financing

Humanitarian responses are dependent upon the availability of funds that can be dispersed in a timely manner during or preceding a crisis. The first pillar of reform, which is about improving the availability, timeliness and flexibility of humanitarian financing, involves the expansion of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and  pooled funding and also ‘strengthening existing mechanisms such as the Emergency Response Fund (ERF), the Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) [and] the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative’ (Streets et al. 2010: 17).

We look at these and other funding mechanisms in more detail in Week Seven, but it is important at this point to share a few words of introduction to the CERF. The CERF is a ‘stand-by fund to complement existing humanitarian funding mechanisms, which provides seed funds to jumpstart critical operations and fund life-saving programmes not yet covered by other donors’ (Child Frontiers and CPWG 2010: 6). The CERF secretariat has compiled a list of actions that are considered life-saving, and which include a number of child protection activities.

The cluster approach is central to the third pillar of the humanitarian reform agenda, which is about improving the coordination of sectoral responses. Under the cluster approach, nine clusters were initially established at global and country levels with lead agencies – termed cluster lead agencies (CLA) – designated for each cluster. These initial nine in 2005 were later extended to eleven clusters, which are depicted in the diagram and the table.

If you are interested in getting more information about the clusters, see: https://clusters.humanitarianresponse.info/about-clusters/what-is-the-cluster-approach.

At the global level, the cluster approach aims to ‘strengthen system-wide preparedness and technical capacity’ to respond to humanitarian emergencies (IASC 2006: 2). Most of the global-level clusters were established as the humanitarian reform agenda rolled out in 2005.

At the country level, the aim of the cluster approach is the same and it is about ensuring predictable leadership and accountability in order to achieve ‘more strategic responses and better prioritization of available resources by clarifying the division of labour among organizations, [and] better defining the roles and responsibilities of humanitarian organizations within the sectors’ (IASC 2006: 2).

The rollout of the cluster approach to the field level was done through a staged approach, with one country adopting the cluster approach in 2005 (Pakistan, following the devastating earthquake), followed by a trial of six countries (three in ongoing and three in new emergencies) in 2006 (Graves, Wheeler and Martin 2007: 4). There are currently over 30 countries worldwide that have implemented the cluster approach. For an up-to-date picture of the countries that have activated clusters operating, visit the OCHA website: https://clusters.humanitarianresponse.info/.

The diagram below (OCHA 2014c) helps illustrate the relationships between the IASC, ERC, OCHA, government, CLA and the cluster coordinator.

It is important to note that the cluster approach does not apply in refugee contexts. UNHCR has the mandate to ensure the protection of, and provide assistance to, refugees and it has also taken on the responsibility to lead three clusters (emergency shelter; protection; and camp coordination and camp management) in situations where there are IDPs. When taking on this responsibility, in protection of their initial mandate as an organisation, UNHCR made it clear ‘that this should not be to the detriment of UNHCR’s ability to protect and assist refugees’ and there should be no transfer of resources from refugee responses to responses with IDPs (UNHCR 2005: 5).

4. Partnerships

As mentioned above, a fourth and final important aspect of the humanitarian reform agenda was the cross-cutting issue of strengthening partnerships. Given the increasing number of NGOs and civil society organisations engaging in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and given the growing proportion of relief that is being delivered through non-UN channels, it was agreed that the ‘ways of working’ or engagement between UN and non-UN actors should be reviewed and strengthened. Key to this understanding is the notion that more effective partnerships lead to more effective responses.

As part of this process to strengthen partnerships, the Global Humanitarian Platform (GHP) was established in 2006, bringing together UN agencies (and related agencies such as IOM and the World Bank), NGOs and the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement. One of the results of the discussions held by the group was to come to a common understanding of what partnership means across actors. As a result of this understanding the GHP in 2007 developed five ‘Principles of Partnership’, which are very important to humanitarian partnerships today.

The five ‘Principles of Partnership’ identified and endorsed by the GHP were (GHP 2010):

1. Equality 

Equality requires mutual respect between members of the partnership irrespective of size and power. The participants must respect each other's mandates, obligations and independence and recognise each other's constraints and commitments. Mutual respect must not preclude organisations from engaging in constructive dissent.

2. Transparency

Transparency is achieved through dialogue (on equal footing), with an emphasis on early consultations and early sharing of information. Communications and transparency, including financial transparency, increase the level of trust among organisations.

3. Results-oriented approach

Effective humanitarian action must be reality-based and action-oriented. This requires results-oriented coordination based on effective capabilities and concrete operational capacities.

4. Responsibility

Humanitarian organisations have an ethical obligation to each other to accomplish their tasks responsibly, with integrity and in a relevant and appropriate way. They must make sure that they commit to activities only when they have the means, competencies, skills, and capacity to deliver on their commitments. Decisive and robust prevention of abuses committed by humanitarians must also be a constant effort.

5. Complementarity

The diversity of the humanitarian community is an asset if we build on our comparative advantages and complement each other’s contributions. Local capacity is one of the main assets to enhance and on which to build. Whenever possible, humanitarian organisations should strive to make it an integral part in emergency response. Language and cultural barriers must be overcome.  

The humanitarian reform agenda went far in improving the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian responses, but weaknesses and operational challenges in the humanitarian response system remain. For example, Andrew Wilder (2008) provides a critique of the cluster approach in its early days, in relation to the humanitarian response to the Pakistan earthquake (read pages 19–23 of Wilder).

These weaknesses and operational challenges were clearly exposed in 2010 when two devastating emergencies struck: the 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti in January, followed by the large-scale flooding in Pakistan, which caused immense destruction. Unni Karunakara, president of Médecins sans Frontières, wrote:

The inadequate cholera response in Haiti – coming on the heels of the slow and highly politicised flood relief effort in Pakistan – makes for a damning indictment of an international aid system whose architecture has been carefully shaped over the past 15 years…Instead of providing the technical support that many NGOs could benefit from, the clusters, at best, seem capable of only passing basic information and delivering few concrete results during a fast-moving emergency. (Karunakara 2010)

The impact of the existing weaknesses and inefficiencies in the international humanitarian response were great, and all humanitarian actors agreed that these had to be addressed.

The transformative agenda

Building on the humanitarian reform agenda from 2005, the IASC principals agreed in December 2011 to a set of actions that, collectively, aim to represent a substantive, or transformative, improvement to the current humanitarian response model. It focuses on improving the timeliness and effectiveness of collective responses through:

  • Better and stronger leadership at all levels of the humanitarian response.
  • Improved coordination structures, ensuring that they are appropriate and fit for purpose and function.
  • Greater accountability to national actors and to the affected people themselves.

For the first time, the IASC agreed on how to respond together to a major, sudden-onset emergency that requires a system-wide response. These are being called Level 3 (L-3) emergencies and are judged against five criteria: 1: exceptional in view of their scale; 2: complexity; 3: urgency; 4: the capacity required to respond; and 5: the reputational risk to humanitarian organisations and responders if the response is not right (OCHA 2012).

It is agreed that establishing effective coordination structures, tailored to the context, with the appropriate staffing in place and able to ensure that the key actions around the humanitarian programme cycle – namely, assessment, planning, resource mobilisation, implementation, monitoring – are undertaken collectively, in support of national response efforts, right from the outset of an emergency, is an essential element of this response to an L-3 emergency. This will address one main critique of the clusters in 2010, which was that they had become overly concerned with process and had lost focus on the results set for the coordination group to achieve.

In addition, under the transformative agenda, an Inter-Agency Rapid Response Mechanism (IARRM) has been established with pre-identified humanitarian experts who will be deployed to ensure that coordination mechanisms function well.

With regard to the clusters, the transformative agenda also brings with it a push to strengthen needs assessments, improve strategic planning and improve the monitoring of both cluster performance and response. Increased emphasis has also been placed on the deactivation of clusters.

2.7 Clusters and Government Disaster Management Offices or Authorities

How do clusters relate to government disaster management offices or authorities?

Given that we have looked at national coordination forums for emergency responses and the international humanitarian coordination architecture, at this point it makes sense to bring the two aspects together and ask how clusters and the disaster management offices/authorities in-country relate to one another.

The diagram (OCHA-ROAP 2013), provides an illustration of how the relationship between the HC, HCT, OCHA and clusters is mirrored in terms of the government structure. There will be slight differences from context to context, as there may or may not be a national disaster management office or organisation, and it may be that some ministry other than the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the main focal-point agency for the HC and OCHA. Also note that clusters do not report to one another as may be implied by the arrows in the diagram. The arrows between the clusters and the ministries could show that they share information and collaborate in joint planning.

2.8 Review of the UN Humanitarian Coordination Architecture

Exercise instructions:

Please drag and drop the correct title for the event or agreement being described on the timeline below.

  • GA Resolution 2816
  • GA Resolution 46/182
  • Humanitarian Coordinator
  • OCHA
  • Humanitarian Reform Agenda
  • Transformative Agenda
  • World Humanitarian Summit

2.9 Reflection exercise 2 for week 2

Reflect upon how you have experienced the five principles of partnership within a coordination context and take time to think through the following two prompts: 

  • Related to one of the principles of partnership, write down one action or a situation that challenges that principle based on your experience.
  • For the challenge that you have identified, please brainstorm and write down a potential solution. 

2.10 Preparation for your weekly call

Module 2: Establishing coordination

Module Overview

Once the background to coordination structures has been established, Module 2 takes you to look specifically at how child protection responses are coordinated in both clusterised and non-clusterised emergency contexts. In addition, you will learn how to setup a child protection coordination group.


Building on the architecture for national and international coordination described in Module 1, this module delves deeper into the architecture for humanitarian coordination, outlining what modalities exist specifically for the coordination of child protection in different contexts. Two broad categories of context are explored: clusterised and non-clusterised contexts. ’Clusterised contexts’ refers to emergency contexts where the cluster approach has been formally adopted for the humanitarian response. ‘Non-clusterised contexts’ covers contexts where the cluster approach has not been formally adopted –  either because it is a national response where there is no need for international humanitarian community support, or because it is a refugee context.

In addition, this module will also look at how to setup a child protection coordination group, including staffing, leadership and other critical considerations.

Module 2 is designed to enable you to:

  • Describe how the child protection area of responsibility (CP AoR) fits into the wider IASC cluster approach.
  • Explain the mandate and key functions of the CP AoR within the Protection Cluster.
  • Describe ways in which child protection is coordinated in non-clusterised countries.
  • Describe how to establish child protection coordination groups.

Week 3: How are child protection responses coordinated in clusterised and non-clusterised contexts?


Of the eleven clusters that were established under the humanitarian reform agenda to improve the predictability and accountability of sectoral responses in emergency contexts, child protection sits within the protection cluster as an area of responsibility (AoR). Protection, as defined by the Global Protection Cluster, is: ‘all activities aimed at ensuring full respect for the rights of the individual in accordance with the letter and spirit of the relevant bodies of law (i.e. human rights law, international humanitarian law and refugee law)’ (GPC 2012: 1).

Given that the definition of protection is very broad, including a number of specific technical areas, and given the interest in ensuring predictability and accountability of sectoral responses, ‘it was agreed by the IASC in 2005 to divide the work of the Global Protection Cluster (GPC) into technical “areas of responsibility” (AoR) under the coordination of the global cluster lead agency’ (GPC 2012: 1). In the light of their specific expertise, therefore, four agencies were designated as focal-point agencies for specific AoRs within the protection cluster. These are:

  • Child protection (the lead agency is UNICEF).
  • Gender-based violence (the lead agency is UNFPA).
  • Mine action (the lead agency is UNMAS).
  • Housing, land and property (the lead agency is UN-Habitat).

 Until 2012 there was a fifth AoR, called the Rule of Law, which was however phased out.

In the same way that all clusters have coordination forums at both global and country levels, the Protection Cluster and the AoRs also each has a global-level coordination forum and country-level clusters (or CP coordination groups).

This session is designed to enable you to:

  • Describe how the child protection area of responsibility (AoR) fits into the wider IASC cluster approach
  • Explain the mandate and key functions of the child protection AoR within the Protection Cluster
  • Describe ways in which child protection is coordinated in non-clusterised countries
  • Identify some of the lessons learnt with regard to the coordination of child protection in clusterised and non-clusterised contexts


  • CPWG. 2008. Inter-agency Review and Documentation: Uganda’s Child Protection sub-Cluster – Briefing Document. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2009. A Small-scale Review of Coordination of Child Protection: Key Findings. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2010. Key Findings of the Global Child Protection Working Group Learning and Support Mission to Haiti. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2012. Coordinating Child Protection Responses in Emergencies: Lessons Learnt for Child Protection sub-Clusters. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2012a. Child Protection Coordination: Top Tips and Troubleshooting. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2013a. Implementation of the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action: The 2013-2015 Work Plan of the Child Protection Working Group. Geneva: CPWG. http://cpwg.net/cpwg/workplan/ (accessed on 3 November 2014).
  • GPC (Global Protection Cluster). 2012. Information Note on the Global Protection Cluster. Geneva: UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency).
  • GPC (Global Protection Cluster). 2013. Active Protection Clusters at a Glance. Geneva: GPC.
  • IASC. 2013a. Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at the Country Level: First Revision. Geneva: IASC
  • IASC. 2013b. Reference Module for the Implementation of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle. Version 1.0. Geneva: IASC.
  • The NGOs and Humanitarian Reform Project. 2010. The Participation of NGOs in Cluster Co-leadership at Country Level: A Review of Experience. https://icvanetwork.org/system/files/versions/doc00004217.pdf (accessed on 3 November 2014).
  • UNICEF. 2013. Evaluation of UNICEF’s Cluster Lead Agency Role in Humanitarian Action. New York: UNICEF.

3.1 Protection Cluster and Areas of Responsibility

Protection Cluster

At the global level, UNHCR leads the Global Protection Cluster (GPC), which has a support cell based in Geneva and provides global level interagency policy advice and guidance on the implementation of the cluster approach to protection clusters in the field, supports protection responses in non-refugee situation humanitarian action as well as leads standard and policy setting relating to protection in complex and natural disaster humanitarian emergencies, in particular with regard to the protection of internally displaced persons. (GPC 2012b)

At the country level, in 2013 there were 26 active protection clusters: 16 in complex emergencies, 8 in natural disaster contexts and 2 in contexts that are both natural disaster and complex emergencies. (For a full list of these clusters, refer to the GPC 2013 entry in this week’s recommended reading list.) When the cluster approach was endorsed, UNHCR committed to providing leadership of field-level protection clusters in situations with conflict-induced IDPs. In situations where internal displacement is induced by natural or human-made disasters, the leadership of field-level protection clusters will be agreed upon by UNHCR, UNICEF and OHCHR in consultation (IASC 2006: 3).

If you are interested in accessing more information on the Global Protection Cluster, see:: www.globalprotectioncluster.org/

Gender-based violence (GBV) AoR

UNFPA leads the gender-based violence AoR. Gender-based violence (GBV) is ‘an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated again a person’s will, and that is based on socially ascribed (gender) differences between males and females’ (IASC 2005: 7). At the global level, the GBV AoR was established in 2008 to provide support to field-level AoRs, build knowledge and capacity, set norms and standards, and advocate for increased action and accountability at all levels. The child protection and gender-based violence AoRs usually work very closely together. In some instances, such as during the response to Typhoon Pablo in the Philippines in 2012, the two work so closely together that it is decided to merge the child protection and GBV field-based coordination groups. If you are interested in accessing more information about the GBV AoR, see: http://gbvaor.net/ or www.globalprotectioncluster.org/en/areas-of-responsibility/gender-based-violence.html

Mine Action AoR

United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) is the focal point agency for the mine action AoR. The objective of the mine action AoR is to identify and reduce the impact and risk of landmines and explosive remnants of war to a level where people can live safely. At the global level, the mine action AoR convenes NGOs, UN agencies, the ICRC, and academic institutions that work in the area of mine action. Child protection actors often work very closely with mine action in areas where mine risk education and awareness-raising efforts about landmines and explosive remnants of war are carried out. If you are interested in accessing more information about the mine action AoR, see: www.globalprotectioncluster.org/ en/areas-of-responsibility/mine-action.html.

Housing, Land and Property AoR

The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) is the designated focal point agency for the housing, land and property (HLP) AoR. The global-level HLP AoR was created in 2007 with the overarching goal of facilitating a more predictable, accountable and effective housing, land and property response in humanitarian settings. At the field level, the HLP AoR is usually integrated into the protection cluster, as opposed to establishing a separate forum for coordination. If you are interested in accessing more information about the housing, land and property AoR, see: www.globalprotectioncluster.org/en/areas-of-responsibility/housing-land-and-property/hlp-area-of-responsibility.html.

Child Protection AoR

The Child Protection Area of Responsibility (CP AoR), formerly known as the Child Protection Working Groups (CPWG) is the global-level coordination forum for child protection coordination. The group brings together NGOs, UN agencies, academics, governments and other partners under the shared objective of ‘facilitating a more predictable, accountable and effective child protection response in emergencies’ (CPWG 2013a: 3). UNICEF is the focal point agency for the Child Protection AoR, and bears ‘equivalent responsibility to a cluster lead agency in relation to this sector of humanitarian response’, including ensuring leadership and coordination of the Child Protection AoR at global and country levels (CPWG 2013a: 3).

The CP AoR defines child protection in emergencies as ‘the prevention of and response to abuse, neglect, exploitation of and violence against children in emergencies’. This contrasts with the aforementioned Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) definition of protection, which includes all human rights. In practice, child protection work includes specific child protection programmes as well as actions integrated into all other humanitarian sectors (CPWG 2013a).

3.2 Coordinating the Child Protection AoR

In what follows, we explore a number of important aspects of how child protection is coordinated, both at global and country levels, considering issues of leadership, membership, structure and functions of the CP AoR.

Leadership and structure of the CP AoR – at a global level

As was mentioned before, UNICEF is the designated focal point agency for the CP AoR, which means that it carries the responsibility for ensuring that child protection is coordinated at both the global and country levels where the cluster approach has been formally adopted.

At the global level, the CP AoR is led by a global-level coordinator and a deputy-coordinator, both of whom are based at the UNICEF office in Geneva, along with the cluster coordinators for other UNICEF-led clusters. In addition to the coordinator and the deputy coordinator, there is a small CP AoR team whose role is to provide support to field-based child protection coordination groups and support activities on the CP AoR work plan. This team includes a number of experienced rapid response team (RRT) members, who can be rapidly deployed as surge capacity for coordination and information management in the event of a large-scale emergency.

The global-level CP AoR works closely with the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action. The Alliance is composed of a number of working groups and task forces that convene on specific technical areas. In 2017, the global-level working groups and task forces are focused on: Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action; Learning and Development; Assessment, Measurement and Evidence; Advocacy; Unaccompanied and Separated Children; Case Management; Psychosocial and Family Interventions; Cash and Child Protection; Child Participation and Community-based Child Protection.

Leadership and structure of the child protection coordination group – at the country level

At the country level, UNICEF is also responsible for ensuring leadership of the CP AoR. In some instances, UNICEF has an appointed CP coordinator who is responsible for the leadership of the child protection coordination group, which is often called the Child Protection sub-Cluster or Child Protection Working Group. Increasingly, CP coordinators are dedicated full-time to the coordination role, but in some instances the coordinator is also responsible for UNICEF’s CPiE programme responses. This state of taking on two roles is called ‘double-hatting’. There are also government -led or NGO-led CP coordinators, at national and sub-national levels. In some countries, there are also  CP co-coordinators (or co-facilitators) who work alongside the CP coordinator.

In terms of reporting structure, as the OCHA diagram (OCHA-ROAP 2012) illustrates, the cluster coordinator, or in this case the CP coordinator, reports to the cluster lead agency, which represents the sub-cluster along with all the other clusters at the humanitarian country team (HCT) forum. Given that child protection is an AoR, the Protection Cluster is also supposed to represent the AoRs, and the cluster lead agency for protection is therefore expected to champion child protection issues at the HCT. As we touched upon in Unit 1, the humanitarian coordinator (HC) reports to the emergency relief coordinator (ERC), who reports to the UN General Assembly.

Given that it is the role of the UN to support governments, who as we know have the ultimate responsibility for the humanitarian response, the UNICEF-appointed child protection sub-cluster coordinator will either co-lead the child protection sub-cluster or working group alongside a government representative, or they will lead the sub-cluster on their own if no representative from government is appointed or if there are reasons why the government is not engaged with the forum. The latter may be in instances where the government is the perpetrator of violence against an affected population, for example.

With the mention of government, one other important point to note regarding the structures of child protection sub-clusters is how they relate to existing child protection structures in countries. Where possible, an analysis of the existing child protection coordination structures, mechanisms and capacities should be conducted when sub-clusters are established, to ensure that adequate links are made with existing structures and these are built upon, where possible. This is particularly important when we look at issues of transition (as covered in Week Ten).

In addition to – or instead of, as the case may be – government leads or co-leads, in some contexts at the country level NGO co-leads support the lead agency and the coordinator. There are only a small number of contexts to date that have trialled a NGO co-leadership arrangement for the sub-cluster or working group; they include Plan International in the Philippines (in response to Typhoon Pablo and Typhoon Haiyan) and Sudan; Save the Children in Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic (with Save the Children co-leading); and War Child Holland in Bukavu, DRC. As you can see from the guidance that is emerging from the transformative agenda process, such as the Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at the Country Level (IASC 2013a), NGO co-leadership is being promoted for the future as it has been shown to increase the effectiveness of clusters.

Sharing leadership arrangements

The following excerpt from the IASC reference module (IASC 2013a) focuses on shared leadership:

A number of evaluations…have found that clusters that share leadership…generally produce positive benefits by improving partnership, advocacy and information for a better response. Sharing leadership ensures stronger engagement and better coordination. This is especially true in remote field locations where a UN presence may be limited or non-existent, and where often NGOs may have a strong and consistent presence. In addition to access, NGOs can also bring technical expertise; different approaches on accountability to affected people; long-term community involvement and understanding; and an expansive partnership to any leadership role. (IASC 2013a: 24)

With regard to the structure of country-level child protection sub-clusters, many existing groups have established working groups that focus on specific technical areas, much in the same way that the global-level CPWG has the task forces. These are referred to, in the reference module for cluster coordination, as technical working groups (TWGs). In addition, some groups have a strategic advisory group (SAG), which is ‘responsible for developing and adjusting the cluster’s strategic framework, priorities and work plan for the cluster’ (IASC 2013a: 20).

A last issue to touch upon with regard to the structure of child protection sub-clusters at country level relates to where the clusters are set up, geographically. Depending on the size of the emergency and the areas most affected, child protection sub-clusters may be established at national as well as at sub-national level.

Membership of the CP AoR – at a global level

Since its inception in 2007, the global-level CPWG has brought together NGOs, UN agencies, academic institutions and other international partners, consistent with the ‘Principles of Partnership’. Membership of the global CPWG is structured into three different levels: there are CPWG member agencies, which are organisations that have signed letters of commitment to the CPWG; CPWG associated institutions; and CPWG associated individuals. In 2013, there were 13 CPWG member agencies, more than 20 associated institutions, and more than 50 associated individuals.

 CPWG member agencies and associated institutions are invited to propose, initiate and lead on projects aimed at improving CPiE responses. All standards, tools and guidance produced by the global-level CPWG are developed through a process of wide consultation and represent the collective position and knowledge to date: 

The global level CPWG has a link with the Paris Principles Steering Group, and the work of the long established Inter-Agency Working Group on Unaccompanied and Separated Children is incorporated into its work plan. Further, the global level CPWG seeks linkage wherever possible with child protection organisations and structures working in non-emergency situations, recognizing the development of national child protection systems as a mutual goal shared with this community. As part of the broader GPC and a key actor in the GPC work plan, the global level CPWG works in close concert with other protection actors and groups on an on-going basis. (CPWG 2013a: 4)

Membership of the child protection AoR – at the country level

At the country level, membership of the child protection sub-cluster or working group is open to be defined in each context. A global-level CPWG survey of field-based child protection groups in 2013 that was responded to by 18 countries, highlighted that the number and type of organisation participating varies greatly in the different emergency contexts. According to the survey findings, the average number of organisations that were members of the coordination groups at the national level was 25 (55% of which were international organisations), with just over 19 organisations at the sub-national level (42% of which were international organisations). The table below captures a few of the responses by country to serve as an idea of the membership composition in different countries.

Reflections on membership of the child protection sub-cluster in Haiti

The following is an excerpt from the report Key Findings of the Global Child Protection Working Group Learning and Support Mission to Haiti (CPWG 2010):

The diversity and breadth of membership of Haiti’s child protection sub-cluster was striking. However, it raised a number of challenges. Foremost, it highlighted the small number of local organisations participating in the sub-cluster and the challenge of engaging these organisations in a sustained and meaningful manner. Experiences showed that seemingly ‘small’ matters – such as transport to a meeting, location of the meeting and security clearance, timeliness of minutes when people could not attend, language of the meeting and/or simultaneous translation – need to be resolved rapidly so as neither to lose momentum nor alienate potential participants (particularly community-based organisations). Indeed, there were many early meetings when only a tiny number of participants had any prior experience in country. (CPWG 2010: 5)

3.3 Functions of the CP AoR

Functions of the CP AoR – at a global level

The global-level CPWG provides the following support to child protection coordination groups in emergency-affected areas worldwide (CPWG 2013a: 4):

  • Advocacy to raise awareness on child protection issues and achieve outcomes such as improved funding.
  • Deployment of senior-level, experienced child protection coordinators through the rapid response team (RRT).
  • Tailored support for child protection assessment, including guidance on adaptation of tools and deployment of assessors.
  • Facilitation of the delivery of training for child protection actors in-country.
  • Provision and assistance in adapting standards, guidelines and tools to support the child protection response.
  • Remote support and mentoring to the in-country coordinator and coordination group.
  • Provision of technical assistance on child protection issues in the response, through an interagency helpdesk function.

Functions of the CP AoR – at the country level

According to the latest Reference Module for Cluster Coordination at Country Level, there are six overall functions that should be core to coordination groups (IASC 2013a). Since the child protection AoR operates within the protection cluster, it is important for us as child protection actors to be aware of these functions as we, too, need to be undertaking them. The functions are:

Supporting service delivery, which includes:

  • Providing a platform to ensure that service delivery is driven by the agreed strategic priorities.
  • Developing mechanisms to eliminate duplication of service delivery.

Informing strategic decision-making of the HC/HCT for the humanitarian response, which includes:

  • Conducting needs assessments and response gap analysis (across sectors and within the sector).
  • Carrying out analysis to identify and address (emerging) gaps, obstacles, duplication, and cross-cutting issues.
  • Prioritisation, grounded in response analysis.

Planning and strategy development, which includes:

  • Developing sectoral plans, objectives and indicators that directly support realisation of the HC/HCT strategic priorities.
  • Applying and adhering to existing standards and guidelines.
  • Clarifying funding requirements, prioritisation, and cluster contributions for the HC’s overall humanitarian funding considerations (for example, Flash Appeal, CAP, CERF, ERF/CHF).

Monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the cluster strategy and results; recommending corrective action where necessary.

Contingency planning/preparedness/capacity building.

Advocacy, which includes:

  • Identifying advocacy concerns to contribute to HC and HCT messaging and action.
  • Undertaking advocacy activities on behalf of cluster participants and the affected population.

These functions all fall under the humanitarian programme cycle, which is outlined in the Reference Module for the Implementation of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle (IASC 2013b) produced under the transformative agenda.

The humanitarian programme cycle reference module (IASC 2013b) has the following elements, which are related to the core functions of the coordination group:

  • Needs assessment and analysis
  • Strategic planning
  • Resource mobilisation
  • Implementation and monitoring
  • Operational review and evaluation

3.4 Lessons learnt regarding coordinating the CP AoR

Lessons learnt regarding coordinating the CP AoR

Regrettably, the number of evaluations and reviews conducted to date on child protection sub-clusters specifically is low. There are two main resources, however, that have pulled together the main findings of the various evaluations that have been conducted so far, and that capture some of the key learning on the issues raised above – namely issues of leadership, membership and structure. These two resources are:

  • CPWG. 2012a. Child Protection Coordination: Top Tips and Troubleshooting. Geneva: CPWG.
  • CPWG. 2012b. Coordinating Child Protection Responses in Emergencies: Lessons Learnt for Child Protection Sub-clusters. Geneva: CPWG.

The following lessons learnt have been extracted from CPWG (2012b: 1–5).

Coordination capacity

Humanitarian child protection responses with dedicated full-time child protection sub-cluster coordinators were found to be more successful in achieving the overall objectives of the sub-cluster than those without full-time dedicated coordinators.

Many clusters have dedicated coordinators at national but not at sub-national level, where in most cases the main operational coordination tasks arise. Where sub-national-level coordinators are in place, they are often tasked with two roles, as programme officer and coordinator, which is not only challenging but has been shown to be less effective.

In contexts where strong, traditional, agency-centric leadership styles were adopted by coordinators, cluster lead agencies were unsuccessful in building strong interagency coordination mechanisms.

Structure of the sub-cluster

To avoid working in silos and duplicating work, and to strengthen local capacity, it is important to build upon existing coordination structures in-country when establishing a child protection sub-cluster. In doing so, however, it is important to ensure that these structures are able to embody an emergency approach reflecting a sense of urgency and emergency priorities, which might be slightly different from developmental ones.

Structures that involve a national-level sub-cluster and field-level sub-clusters covering designated areas were identified as more effective than a single national sub-cluster alone.

Although field-based coordination structures can be successful in coordinating field operations, without a clear communication architecture involving information sharing with the national-level coordination structures, child protection actors overall are less able to track trends, identify common concerns across operational areas and develop more upstream advocacy and programming strategies.


While strong partnership alone does not ensure a successful sub-cluster response, poor partnership clearly undermines joint decision-making and limits the group’s ability to effectively identify and respond to programmatic and geographical gaps.

 Active steps need to be taken from the outset to support the involvement of a diverse range of child protection actors in the child protection sub-cluster. These steps, which may be related to transport, location of meetings, information reaching actors, and so on, might seem ‘small’, but have been shown to make a critical difference in the participation of various child protection actors.

A challenge for sub-clusters remains the better inclusion of national/local actors. In some contexts the cluster approach is viewed by national/local actors as isolationist in the first months after establishment, and in other contexts it remains so throughout the lifetime of the cluster. In these contexts, the sub-cluster does not play a role in mobilisation of NGOs and other actors to respond.

Government involvement with child protection sub-clusters

Developing constructive working relationships with the government within the coordination mechanism can be key in influencing government policy, promoting good practice and ensuring support for emergency and recovery protection programmes.

Even in difficult circumstances, the child protection sub-cluster must find ways creatively and sensitively to engage the government with the work of the sub-cluster. Failing to do this will have long-term consequences in terms of ownership and the overall systems-building effort of child protection actors.

In contexts where clusters did not reach out to important stakeholders – including national NGOs, the government and donors – and were viewed as exclusive for non-members, this weakened local ownership, created tensions with the government and undermined sustainable solutions to ‘build back better’. In cases where the clusters had successful links with the government and civil society actors, positive results were achieved.

 CPWG (2012b: 1–5)

3.5 NGO co-leadership

Given that NGO co-leadership is gaining increasing attention now based on the benefits it has shown to provide, and since no learning has been collected to date on NGO co-leadership by the global-level CPWG, we thought it important to introduce you to some of the learning that has been captured so far from other clusters.

An interagency project called the NGOs and Humanitarianism Project carried out a review in 2010 of NGO co-leadership arrangements in four countries – Afghanistan, DRC, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe – and highlighted a number of lessons learnt that were identified. The activity below gives you the opportunity to find out more about the outcomes.

3.6 Mechanisms for coordinating child protection in non-clusterised contexts

In what follows we review the coordination mechanisms that exist in the four contexts described above, but in doing so we group them into two categories. On the one hand we have ‘coordination in refugee crises’ (for example, the influx of Somali refugees into Kenya); and on the other hand we have what is called ‘sectoral coordination’, which occurs in smaller-scale emergencies, contexts where clusters have been deactivated (for example in Uganda), and contexts where the government is opposed to the formal adoption of clusters, but coordination still occurs (for example, in Colombia).

Coordination in refugee crises

The 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention (UN 1951) assigns the core mandate of ensuring the international protection of refugees to UNHCR – the UN Refugee Agency. Although UNHCR is the global lead agency for protection, shelter (together with IFRC) and camp management (alongside IOM), this arrangement is only valid in contexts with IDPs, and where a response to IDPs does not detract from UNHCR’s ability to protect refugees, as we mentioned earlier (Unit 1, Week Two).

In other words, UNHCR is in charge of coordination in refugee contexts – ‘to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of the refugee problem’ (Crisp et al. 2013: 8). The coordination model adopted in refugee contexts is based on a ‘multi-sectoral response guided by an overarching protection and durable solutions strategy’. UNHCR representatives are responsible for establishing appropriate coordination and sectoral leadership mechanisms.

In practice, coordination in refugee settings takes the form of a single, overall coordinating body that is established to provide a ‘framework within which the implementation of the programme can be coordinated’ and whose membership should include government, UN agencies and NGOs, and sectoral committees that are created on a needs basis (UNHCR 2007: 103). These sectoral committees are responsible for ‘coordinating implementation in that sector and reporting back to the coordinating body’ (UNHCR 2007: 103). Coordination mechanisms are set up at ‘central’ and ‘site’ levels, the difference between these being that ‘at the site level the refugees themselves should play a major role’ (UNHCR 2007: 105).

Sectoral coordination

Sectoral coordination often occurs in contexts where there are smaller-scale emergencies and it is not deemed necessary to formally activate clusters (usually due to the fact that the government has the capacity to deliver the required humanitarian assistance). As mentioned above, however, sectoral coordination also takes place in contexts where clusters have been deactivated and have transitioned and, lastly, in contexts where the government is opposed to the formal adoption of the cluster approach. Coordination in all of these contexts is most commonly led by the government, either alone or together with a counterpart, often a UN agency with technical expertise. It is important to note that even though these are non-clusterised responses to the emergency, the functions of the coordination groups are very similar to clusters. 

So what, then, is it that differentiates sectoral coordination from the cluster approach? Stoddard et al. (2007) suggest that: ‘[t]he leadership aspect most differentiates the cluster approach from earlier modes of coordination. Having a designated lead agency, with responsibility not only for the performance of its own programme but for the entire sectoral response, stands to be the most important benefit of the approach – if it can be realized in practice’ (Stoddard et al. 2007: 9). In the cluster approach, the cluster lead agency is the one carrying the responsibility, whereas in the sectoral coordination approach it is either the government, or whichever UN or NGO agency that is leading the group, that carries responsibility. 

The table below (IASC 2013a: 5) highlights some of the characteristics and accountabilities for coordination groups and compares activated clusters with sectoral coordination groups. In almost all cases, the main difference is only that instead of the ‘cluster lead agency’ being responsible, it is the ‘government’ in the case of sectoral coordination. The actions and functions remain the same, or very similar.

Comparison of characteristics and accountabilities of clusters and sectors

Challenges, and lessons learnt

The 2013 real-time evaluation of the response to the Syrian crisis highlighted a number of challenges with regard to interagency coordination in refugee contexts. According to the review findings, there was a widespread perception that UNHCR did not provide effective coordination in the earlier stages of the emergency (Crisp et al. 2013: 8). In this regard, a number of issues were highlighted, including that ‘stakeholders consider that UNHCR’s triple role as operational organization, a funder of other agencies and a coordinating body can lead to conflicts of interest’, and also that ‘UNHCR at times was more preoccupied with managing its own operations than coordinating the overall refugee response’. Finally, it was suggested that ‘UNHCR has the tendency to focus on its relationship with the organization’s implementing partners, rather than dealing with all agencies on an equal basis’ (Crisp et al. 2013: 8).

In response to this evaluation, UNHCR has said that ‘the two distinct accountability and coordination systems for refugees and internal displacement are now being more closely aligned to adjust to mixed situations and to better meet the expectation of partners’ (UNHCR 2013: 5). This will help coordination group members that are familiar with the consensus style approach, which comes with the cluster approach, and with the frameworks and tools used in cluster coordination, which have been found to be useful.

Another lesson the response to the Syria crisis has provided is that UNHCR should ‘strengthen its current practice of sharing leadership responsibilities for certain working groups or sub-working groups with other UN agencies and NGOs’ (Crisp et al. 2013: 15). Where this does occur though, as it did in Lebanon where UNICEF co-led the CPiE working group under the protection working group, the leadership structure of the coordination groups can get heavy very quickly if the government also takes on a co-leadership role. In the Jordan context, this meant that NGO co-leadership was not a viable option.

A last lesson learnt to be included here is about identifying clear accountabilities. It is interesting to note that humanitarian actors responding to the Syrian crisis from Jordan requested that country-level coordination be strengthened on site, even though a number of working groups led by the government had already been established and were active in-country. ‘According to those interlocutors, working group meetings tend to be used for information sharing purposes and have limited follow-up’ (Crisp et al. 2013: 12). The issue of what functions the coordination groups take on is highlighted here – whether they meet just to share information, or carry out further functions such as strategic planning, advocacy and jointly assessing needs, to name a few.

3.7 Reflection exercise for week 3

Reflect upon your past experiences you have had with child protection coordination groups, thinking about the group’s structure, membership, leadership and the functions it carried out. Then take time to think through the following question and prompt:

  1. Which aspects of the coordination group did you find particularly strong, and which aspects particularly weak?
  2.  Illustrate your journal entry with examples for each of the strengths and weaknesses you identified.

Module 3: Core functions of child protection coordination mechanisms

Module Overview

Module 3 moves from issues of structure to exploring the core functions of child protection coordination mechanisms. You will learn that the key driver behind these functions is the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall emergency response, including through: collecting and managing information on the needs of the affected population, strategic planning of the humanitarian response, fundraising and resource mobilisation, inter-sectoral advocacy and mainstreaming of child protection, and monitoring and evaluation.


The first two units were primarily concerned with the modalities for humanitarian coordination in emergency contexts, both in the broader sense in terms of coordination at national and international levels and in the more specific modalities for the coordination of child protection responses – in contexts where the cluster approach has been formally adopted and those in which this is not the case. This unit moves away from analysing structural modalities and turns the focus onto unpacking the various steps in the humanitarian programme cycle that child protection coordination groups need to be engaged with.

Recall that according to the latest Reference Module for Humanitarian Programme Cycle (IASC 2013a), there are five core areas that are critical for the humanitarian response. These five areas are part of a process that can apply to all crises. ‘In all forms of emergency, regardless of the phase they are in, international humanitarian organisations should implement the HPC’ (IASC 2013a: 10). As you will recall from Week Two in Unit 1, the key steps in the HPC are:

  • Needs assessment and analysis.
  • Strategic planning.
  • Resource mobilisation.
  • Implementation and monitoring.
  • Operational review and evaluation.

Given the centrality and importance of these steps, they are useful to review regardless of whether or not the child protection coordination group is operating in a clusterised context under formal adoption of the cluster approach. Together with the six core functions of the clusters, these guide the group to ensure that the collaboration is meaningful and results-driven and that the coordination groups meetings and forum are not just used to exchange information about the situation. This, as you will recall from Weeks Three and Four, have been critiques of coordination groups in the past. Therefore, in what follows in Unit 3, we unpack the various functions as they relate to the humanitarian programme cycle, identifying their importance in any context.

Module 3 is designed to enable you to:

  • Identify critical sources of information in emergencies and interagency process to gather data.
  • Plan an interagency child protection rapid assessment (CPRA) using the CPWG CPRA Toolkit.
  • Identify opportunities for child protection mainstreaming and advocacy.
  • Describe the purpose of an interagency child protection response plan and how it fits into the wider strategic response plan of all sectors.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the different humanitarian funding mechanisms and how these can be accessed by child protection actors.
  • Describe the types of monitoring the child protection coordination group should be engaged with.