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The Right to a Say and the Duty to Respond: The Impact of Complaints and Response Mechanisms on Humanitarian Action


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About this resource

Resource type:Research, reports and studies
Keywords:Accountability, Accountability and Participation, Communications, media & information, Development & humanitarian aid
Agency:HAP - Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International
Author(s):Baños Smith, H.
Date published:March 2009

This report examines an integral component of the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management, complaint and response mechanisms (CRM). Complaints and response mechanisms have received significant attention in recent years as part of aid agencies' efforts to improve accountability and the quality of their service. Yet limited research has been undertaken so far to collect evidence of the effectiveness of these systems and their impact on service provision. In 2009 HAP commissioned study to highlight the views and experiences of staff from four aid agencies and individual representatives of affected-communities in Uganda and Bangladesh; additional interviews with staff from 17 agencies complement the four case studies. The final report based on this study concludes that: · To be fit for purpose, as well as meeting the requirements in the HAP 2007 Standard, complaint and response mechanisms (CRMs) cannot work in isolation from the other areas of accountability that are addressed in the Standard. · Unless power dynamics at community level are carefully considered by the agency, CRMs risk reinforcing existing imbalances by giving more voice to privileged members of the community at the expense of others. · Cultural and linguistic factors and the local context need to be given due consideration in identifying most appropriate means through which communities will be comfortable to raise complaints. · While staff knowledge and skills in addressing complaints are important, it is their attitudes and behaviours that will most directly affect communities' confidence in raising issues of concern to them. · Complaints need to be addressed as close as possible to the place where they are raised but staff need clear agency guidance on how to escalate more complex or sensitive allegations. · Donor attitude and engagement was also seen to have a role in enabling improved accountability to beneficiaries. · Leadership and senior management support is essential in creating an environment where staff recognize the value of the benefits of complaint handling firstly, as a means of making concrete the values of dignity and respect for disaster-affected communities through better accountability and, secondly, as a way of strengthening their organisation's performance. · Accountability starts at home: staff too need access to a safe and confidential system to raise complaints without fear of retaliation.

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