The 'c' word: the state of coordination for emergency cash-based programming
This week I’ve been reading ALNAP’s State of the Humanitarian System (SOHS) report. Of the many areas highlighted in the report that are showing progress, requiring attention, or indeed, both, one particularly occupied my attention: coordination.
For sure, better coordination makes for better emergency programming overall, and it is great to see elements of the reform process beginning to bear fruit in this regard. But one response modality that has proven difficult to find a happy home for in formal coordination mechanisms is cash-based programming.
Cash is being recognised and used more and more, as understanding grows of benefits that it can bring in terms of flexibility, support for local markets, choice and dignity for beneficiaries... all of which can contribute to programme effectiveness and efficiency. Indeed, as one respondent in the SOHS report puts it, less time is spent: ‘agonising over whether or not cash is appropriate as an emergency intervention and more time just getting on with it’.
There is also the tantalising possibility that cash unsettles the way we ‘do’ aid (Erik Johnson speaks on this in Humanitarian Exchange 54), since it does not necessarily conform to the neat sectoral boundaries we have drawn to organise assistance. Cash has certainly brought the importance of better market assessment and response analysis to the fore, which of course has implications for better programming in general.
Cash may no longer be ‘new kid on the block’, but we aren’t yet routinely considering or using it at scale. A recent article by Breanna Ridsdel for the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) sets out what we need to get better at for this to happen, including market assessment and response analysis, preparedness, and of course, coordination.
In this vein, CaLP has recently released some work on coordination, which tries to tease out how to make predictable, functional coordination happen. The old refrain of there being no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach certainly applies, though the study does suggest a model to guide the process. The model urges flexibility to needs and contexts, such as existing levels of cash experience, type and phase of the crisis, and the pre-existence of coordination mechanisms. It suggests technical (‘how-to’) discussions be kept separate from more strategic coordination; this latter part is what needs better integration into existing sector-based coordination mechanisms. And of course, sufficient, predictable resources – both people and financial – are a must.
As the use of cash grows as a way to meet needs during emergencies, it is important that we get cash coordination right – this model provides a useful starting point for us to find our way there.
Photo credit: Jane Beesley/Oxfam
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