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Determining the Need for and Likely Benefits of NGO Coordination
Coordination mechanisms can provide significant value in humanitarian contexts, particularly in rapid-onset and/or large-scale humanitarian response. Well-run coordination bodies can improve humanitarian operations and result in better outcomes for affected populations. However, they can be time-consuming, resource-intensive, and hierarchical.
Therefore, the decision to create a new one should be based on an analysis of the benefits of NGO coordination to complement broader coordination efforts. This analysis should be agreed and recorded, articulating the added value of the coordination body to key stakeholders.
A number of situations can give rise to independent NGO coordination operating alongside broader coordination structures, including:
- A need for NGOs doing similar work and facing similar problems in humanitarian operations to collaborate;
- A need for a collective NGO presence to better engage with the wider humanitarian community;
- A desire to improve the response in terms of principled action, quality of response, or accountability to populations;
- A need for a shared discussion space for NGOs;
- Gaps in the existing coordination architecture;
- Frustrations with existing response or coordination;
- Concerns about operational overlap, or duplication of effort;
- A desire to share resources; and
- A desire to address a specific policy or operational issue.
It is essential to place NGO coordination in the context of other coordination mechanisms in humanitarian situations. NGO coordination bodies may already exist, focused on, for example, development. Many NGOs involved in such development coordination forums will also be involved in a humanitarian response, so the potential for duplication or coordination overload should be carefully considered.
It is critical to consider the broader international inter-agency humanitarian coordination architecture, including the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), that exists in many contexts, or may spring up in response to a new large emergency. NGO coordination will most likely be implemented in parallel to these other structures - it is important to consider how it will complement these structures (Discussed more in the Section on NGOs & Inter-Agency Humanitarian Coordination Mechanisms).
Determining the need for independent NGO coordination is vital to ensure positive acceptance, commitment, participation and subsequent impact of its members. A basic problem analysis may assist in identifying the need for, and objectives of, NGO coordination and methods (see problem analysis below).
There are four questions that NGOs may ask to determine if independent NGO coordination should be established or continue.
If a group of NGOs determines that they will have an independent NGO coordination body, the Principles of Partnership (equality, transparency, result-oriented approach, responsibility, and complementarity) should underline the objectives of any NGO coordination effort.
The group must also consider the form, functions, priorities and activities, and financing of the coordination mechanism. These are discussed in the next section.
For a list of links to country-level, regional, and global NGO coordination bodies, please see ‘Mapping of NGO Consortia’.
Assessing the Need for NGO Coordination: The Example of NCCI
The Iraq war is an example of where many NGOs felt there was a compression of civil and military operations compromising the neutrality of the humanitarian response. Prior to the invasion in January 2003, the US Pentagon, as part of its military headquarters in Kuwait, established the Humanitarian Operations Centre (HOC) to “facilitate the work of humanitarian organisations that will be called upon to assist the Iraqi people in the event of a conflict in the region”. After the invasion in May, the Coalition Provisional Authorities (CPA) implemented civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) briefing sessions across the country, which were attended by some within the humanitarian community. The UN led national coordination meetings in Baghdad, but failed to monitor sectoral working groups. Due to delayed UN deployment, the Coalition forces took charge of aid coordination in certain parts of the country.
The NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq (NCCI) was established in April 2003 in Baghdad at the initiative of (largely) European NGOs with a pre-war presence. NCCI felt that there was a need for a forum independent of the US, UN, and military where operational and policy discussions could take place. The role of NCCI was later expanded following the bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 and the evacuation of UN foreign staff from Iraq. NCCI stayed and took on many of the UN coordination activities. At this point, NCCI had offices in Baghdad, Erbil, Basrah, Kuwait, and Amman. Between 2003 and 2007 the objectives of the NCCI included protection of humanitarian space through advocacy; operational coordination through field offices, including the maintenance of a “who-what-where” database; and information sharing on security incidences through the NCCI Security Officer, as NGOs still had a significant field presence.
NCCI is a good example of how an NGO coordination body has to change to reflect context and the needs of stakeholders in a protracted emergency.
For more information, see the Case Study on Iraq, Strength in Numbers: An Overview of NGO Coordination in the Field.