Between standards and constraints, how can we give back meaning to quality?

Faou, M., Pierluigi, C.
Publication language
Date published
22 Dec 2022
Conference, training & meeting documents
Accountability to affected populations (AAP), Data quality
Groupe URD

The key messages that are summarised in this document are based on the discussions that took place during the round tables and open forums during the Autumn School on Humanitarian Aid that took place on 21 and 23 September 2022 in Plaisians, focusing on “Taking a new look at ‘quality’ in today’s context of standards and restrictions”. 

How far have aid organisations come in terms of quality and accountability since the Joint Evaluation of Emergency Assistance to Rwanda in 1994, when the aid system began to reflect on the subject? Numerous initiatives emerged during the 1990s and 2000s to contribute to improving the quality of operations and increase accountability (e.g. ALNAP, HAP, the Sphere Standards, and the Quality COMPAS). Then in the 2010s, given the proliferation of international frameworks and standards, international actors felt the need to rationalise quality initiatives via the Joint Standard Initiative, which gave rise to the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) in 2014.

In parallel to this, donor demands increased in terms of accountability and quality, which pushed humanitarian actors to reinforce their internal mechanisms so that they respected increasingly restrictive and rigid frameworks. As a result, quality and accountability now tend to be seen as donor issues – more to do with compliance with rules and standards than measuring the impact and quality of operations for people and communities. At the same time, the sector has evolved and expanded as crises have become more intense and complex.

The emergence of new ways of thinking within the sector has also contributed to the questioning of restrictive procedures and standards. Debates about aid localisation, the role of local people and communities, the contribution of social anthropology, environmental footprints and climate change mean that we need to take a step back from our practices and question the current system and the changes that need to be made. These topics have revealed incoherences and contradictory demands, and thus the limits of standards and the ‘over-standardisation’ of the sector while raising questions about the very notion of ‘quality’.