ALNAP was established in 1997, as a mechanism to provide a forum on learning, accountability and performance issues for the humanitarian sector, following the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda (JEEAR). The JEEAR is the most comprehensive system-wide evaluation of an international response to a humanitarian crisis to date. It led to demands for increased professionalisation of the humanitarian sector.
Consequently, several initiatives were developed during the same few years to improve the performance of the humanitarian sector. These include The Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief, the Sphere Project, the Humanitarian Ombudsman Project (which became HAP International) and People In Aid.
ALNAP was conceived as a mechanism for different organisations to keep each other and the wider humanitarian community informed of their performance-related activities. The idea for ALNAP was developed during discussions following the JEEAR: first at a meeting of European bilateral donor organisations in May 1996 in Copenhagen; and then again in July 1996 at a meeting in London of donor, UN, NGO and Red Cross representatives.
The UK Department for International Development then commissioned the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to write a concept paper which was circulated to bilateral and multilateral donor organisations, UN agencies and NGOs in December 1996. Following a positive response from several organisations, an initial meeting of interested agencies was held to develop the concept and to begin establishing the mechanism that subsequently became ALNAP.
It was anticipated that ALNAP would be limited to a small group of about 30 members. This plan was quickly revised due to greater demand and interest in the issues addressed by the network. ALNAP’s membership has continued to grow, and the maximum number of Full Members was set at 100 in 2011. In addition, well over 1000 Observer Members are kept informed of ALNAP’s activities and other matters of interest to the sector.
ALNAP quickly built a reputation for developing high-quality tools and analysis on learning and accountability issues for the humanitarian sector. Evaluation of humanitarian action has been a special interest, and ALNAP has developed training modules and guidance booklets in this area, and maintains an Evaluative Reports Database (ERD).
ALNAP has carried forward such innovative projects as the Learning Support Office, which was field-tested in Malawi in 2002/2003, and hosted the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition in 2005/2006. ALNAP has also produced well-received guidance on topical issues. For example, Protection: an ALNAP guide for humanitarian agencies (2005) has proved a valuable addition in this field.
ALNAP's flagship publication, the Review of Humanitarian Action provides detailed research and analysis to help the sector to reflect on its performance annually. ALNAP also produces occasional papers on thematic issues.
ALNAP responds to new natural disasters and complex emergencies through wide circulation of its ‘Lessons papers', primarily based on material held within the ERD. Recent Lessons papers have looked at humanitarian emergencies resulting from Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, and from the conflict in Gaza at the beginning of 2009.