CDAC Network Members in the Philippines have been involved in a ‘common services’ project following Typhoon Haiyan, exploring how humanitarian agencies can collaborate and use common channels of communication to be more accountable to the people they aim to serve. Plan International, IOM, and World Vision are running the pilot project as a consortium, with DfID funding. This article, written by Margie Buchanan-Smith who is leading the learning and research component of the project, shares lessons learned from the ‘Pamati Kita’ project so far.
The Pamati Kita project was conceived by IOM, Plan and World Vision International early in the Typhoon Haiyan/ Yolanda response, in December 2013, less than a month after the devastating typhoon. As numerous agencies set up their own individual channels of communication with affected communities, the value of a more collective approach, providing common channels through which communities could communicate with humanitarian agencies, quickly became apparent These ‘common services’ were intended to avoid duplication and confusion at community level, and to encourage a more coordinated approach in responding to community feedback.
The project encountered many and lengthy delays in getting off the ground. When it eventually began, in July 2014, the recovery phase was already underway. The participating agencies had eight months to deliver an ambitious suite of common services. Taken in the spirit of a pilot, however, the project offers valuable learning for future initiatives which seek to promote a more collective approach to accountability to affected people (AAP). This article notes a few of these learnings in relation to the ‘common services project’.
First, the Pamati Kita project is a reminder of how long it takes a consortium project to get off the ground -for three agencies, with a shared intent but different organisational processes and systems, to find a modus operandi for working together, including developing working relationships between the frontline staff delivering the project. This is not a new insight, but it continues to be overlooked in project planning, and suggests there is value in setting up such a consortium arrangement in advance.
Second, some of the things the Pamati Kita project is most valued for, have developed organically in response to the context, and were not necessarily part of the original project plans. This is an important learning for planners and funders of specific accountability efforts, to allow space for initiatives to develop, in response to the changing context, rather than adopting a more formulaic approach to AAP. The Pamati Kita project is valued by agencies for its role in continuing to coordinate the Working Groups (WG) on AAP/CWC, when OCHA withdrew as the Government of the Philippines announced the emergency phase was over, in July 2014. One of the most valuable contributions of the WGs under the Pamati Kita project has been the bringing together of national and international agencies, breaking down barriers that had built up during the response phase. In interviews carried out in January/ February 2015, for the Pamati Kita Learning & Research component, National NGOs were using words such as ‘camaraderie’ to describe relationships within the WGs, replacing earlier feelings of ‘intimidation’ . These relationships were put to the test when Typhoon Hagupit threatened the same areas, in December 2014. There is consensus amongst most of the WG agencies that their collective action made a significant contribution to the preparedness efforts.
The project has also experimented with carrying out multi-stakeholder community consultations. These are currently at an early stage and the process is still being refined. At the time of writing, one has been held in Tacloban, one in Ormoc, building on a longer experience of such multi-stakeholder consultations in Roxas City. Their value is in bringing together community representatives from a number of barangays (local government units), government officials with responsibility for implementing rehabilitation programmes, and national and international agencies working in the area. Such a forum appears well-suited to discuss complex recovery issues, including the government’s Emergency Shelter Assistance programme, to encourage a culture of information sharing and dialogue, and is more appropriate to the recovery phase than the original plan of setting up a common hotline for the whole response.
Despite external DfID funding for Pamati Kita coming to an end, these services have been valued in the recovery phase, and should continue. At the same time, building a ‘stand-by capacity’ to provide the suite of common services promised by Pamati Kita, much earlier in the response, should be explored, to support and encourage humanitarian agencies to continue to mainstream AAP in future responses to disasters in the Philippines, thus complementing the coordination role of OCHA.
The ‘learning and research’ component of Pamati Kita is also reviewing wider agency experience of being accountable to affected people, beyond the common services project. It will provide an overview of the pros and cons of different methods and approaches to ‘being accountable’ that agencies have used in the Haiyan response. It will also provide insights into the factors that have facilitated some agencies effectively mainstreaming AAP into their response, and factors that have hindered other agencies from making similar progress.
Local people are the ultimate judge of how accountable humanitarian agencies have been. Their perspectives will be contrasted with agency narratives in this project. As humanitarian agencies redouble their efforts to be accountable to affected people, this case study of AAP in the Haiyan response will help to chart the progress being made, and identify an agenda for further action.