In order to best cover the needs of populations affected by a crisis, Solidarités International (SI) strives to implement qualitative and innovative solutions on a daily basis. The Department of Operations and Programs (DOAP) is the guarantor of the optimal balance between quality and programmatic innovation: reinforcing the quality of the programs implemented and developing new modalities of intervention and adapted activities are the key to the agility and sustainability of the responses implemented.
1/ What are the most effective qualitative levers for improving programs and the implementation of activities?
DOAP has several qualitative levers on which to act in order to guarantee programmatic quality.
The first qualitative lever is at the strategic level: a good humanitarian response is above all a response that solves problems that are often complex because they are multifactorial. The development of the response plan must therefore be based on a precise and holistic situational analysis, which highlights unmet needs, gaps in the existing response and the differentiated impact of the crisis on the population according to a detailed analysis of vulnerabilities. The intervention logic, inspired by the Theory of Change, makes it possible to link this situational analysis carried out at the country and/or grassroots level, and to develop a response strategy focused on solving the problem (instead of a sectoral approach). It pushes program teams to always ask the question of the rationale for the intervention and the chosen modality by answering the question: “Why are we doing what we are doing? DOAP supports teams by developing and training on these methodologies of situational analysis and theory of change.
A good response is also and above all a technical response: covering basic needs such as “eating, drinking, sheltering” in 18 crisis contexts as different as they are complex, requires the mastery of a wide range of technical skills, from the rehabilitation of wells and boreholes, drinking water analysis, physico-chemical and microbiological analysis of wastewater, waste management, drinking water and sanitation networks, vector control, infection prevention and control measures, project management assistance… for the water, sanitation and hygiene sector; market gardening, tree farming, agroecology, urban agriculture, animal health, small and large livestock breeding, fishing, fish farming, product processing and value-added techniques, value chain approach, etc. for the food security and livelihoods sector. This impressive – yet non-exhaustive – list should be complemented by skills in civil engineering, construction and rehabilitation of small and large infrastructures… The reality of sectoral technical expertise is also complementary to more cross-cutting skills such as irrigation, integrated water resources management, climate change, monitoring systems or the market-based approach and cash transfers.
The DOAP thus ensures the respect of technical standards through the elaboration of technical reference documents and the creation of expertise. The team brings, in addition to the daily technical support, the global vision and the consideration of the stakes related to the environment, the public health, the social cohesion and the protection in order to control the negative impact of its actions.
In order to cover as broadly as possible the range of technical expertise required to carry out its activities, and recognizing that a partnership and multi-actor approach is essential to the successful implementation of activities in the field and to the organization’s capacity building, DOAP regularly calls upon its preferred technical partners.
Finally, one of the central pillars of SI’s quality approach is based on methodological support for program management and learning. DOAP promotes a dynamic and continuous learning approach throughout the project cycle, as well as participatory, monitoring and evaluation methodologies to ensure that humanitarian action is geared towards achieving concrete changes in the lives of the populations we work for and with.
Keeping a sense of action and the perspective of the changes we are contributing to in the lives of the people at the heart of our programs is the best guarantee of the effective quality of our programs.
2/ Are innovation and humanitarian action really compatible?
The crisis and fragility areas in which we work are particularly conducive to innovation because the diversity of contexts and needs as well as the constraints of implementation (security, technical, land, administrative, temporal, contextual…) that we encounter on a daily basis do not allow the implementation of a single standard solution to the complex problems encountered. Furthermore, the humanitarian imperative to respond to vital needs and to facilitate access to basic services and fundamental rights for the most vulnerable populations affected by crises, leads us to think outside the box and always seek more integrated, more adapted and more sustainable responses.
Thus, DOAP claims the role of internal coordinator of the research and innovation approach as a full-fledged lever of the quality approach: from the identification of innovative solutions emerging both from headquarters and from the field, to the evaluation and capitalization, including support for the development and monitoring of the pilot phase, DOAP ensures the emergence and replication of good practices.
However, it is sometimes tempting to give in and give up in the face of the many paradoxes involved in juxtaposing the terms “humanitarian” and “innovation”:
Donors’ aversion to risk and uncertainty leaves little opportunity for funding in the seed and start-up phases of a new project, a new approach or the implementation of an innovative solution. Paradoxically, however, the humanitarian sector is increasingly endowed with funds dedicated to the implementation of innovative solutions that have already proved their worth in various fields.
The humanitarian culture and the need for rapid and efficient implementation are still far removed from the culture of innovation, research and learning that is inexorably linked to it. The key stage of evaluation and dissemination of good practices and new solutions is also still poorly funded by donors.
Our sectors of technical expertise are conducive to different types of innovation (product innovation, innovation approach or action research). The innovation approach allows us to highlight our technical expertise and increase our credibility and reputation in the sector. However, the technical nature of the solution and the need to adapt it are both the biggest obstacles to the ability to replicate the solution identically in another context, and therefore to the scaling up of the innovation.
Finally, the long temporality of the innovation cycle (multiannual, including a long phase of ideation and preliminary development) cannot be compatible with the necessary efficiency of the solutions implemented in the short term in the phases of response to the shock (rethinking a rapid response mechanism whose short-term response cycles are repeated for many years in the context of repeated shocks, and the temptation is great to look for a more durable solution, is extremely difficult). When people’s lives are at stake, are we willing to risk answering “no” to the question “did the implemented solution work”?
All these constraints increase the risk that organizations focus on “headquarter” / global innovation (e.g. very technological) that brings more communication than impact on people. So, for innovation to solve the transition from theory to practice, we need to encourage the development of innovation in the field, for sustainable solutions that are easy to develop and replicate.
Keeping a sense of action and the perspective of the changes we are contributing to in people’s lives at the heart of our programs is the best guarantee of successful innovation.
3/ Giving ourselves the means to meet the demands of the humanitarian mandate and to bring the voice of the people to the global level
In addition to being a platform for mobilizing resources to strengthen the organization’s dual approach to quality and innovation, DOAP is mandated to represent the voice of the people at the global level in humanitarian coordination bodies. DOAP represents SI on the steering committees of the EAH Cluster, the SAME Cluster, and the ALNAP Humanitarian Action Evaluation Network.
In order to move from theory to practice, also at the global level, and to be an actor of change in the humanitarian sector and thus promote its dual approach of Quality and Innovation as a guarantee of humanitarian impact, SI has been the incubator of 2 projects financed first by innovation funds, then by institutional funding: The first one, develops a system to strengthen quality and accountability of beneficiaries in the WASH sector (AQA) and the second one, OCTOPUS, allows the improvement of good practices and the monitoring of the implementation of innovative solutions related to emergency sanitation. These two projects are in the process of being transferred to the WASH sector to be integrated as a global coordination tool and approach.
Developed by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL in 2018, the OCTOPUS (Operational Collaborative Tool Of Ongoing Practices in Urgent Sanitation) platform is an online collaborative tool related to fecal sludge disposal and treatment in emergency contexts. It aims to improve sanitation practices through the sharing of knowledge and experiences by stakeholders and experts in fecal sludge management. Case studies present detailed technical and contextual information that sanitation practitioners can draw on to adapt their interventions to the crises they face.
As of late 2018, the Accountability and Quality Assurance Initiative (AQA) aims to increase the capacity of humanitarian organizations to respond effectively and efficiently to crises by providing decision makers with the information they need to continuously adapt to changing contexts. Based on the industry’s Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve-Control methodology, this initiative relies on the collection of simple data to support evidence-based, results-oriented decision-making, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that quality and accountability standards are met and improved over time. This project is a partnership between Oxfam, Solidarités International, Tufts University, and UNICEF, with support from the Global WASH Cluster and the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Sector.
The final word
Having a body at the heart of operations that carries this dual approach is a real organizational asset that allows a medium-sized structure to implement Quality and Innovation in the same way as large ones.
The risk-taking inherent in innovation and the development of new approaches is only possible with the guarantee of follow-up, technical support and quality control. Quality and Innovation are therefore intrinsically linked and their effects are mutually beneficial.
The multi-stakeholder approach and the ability to mobilize partners contribute to the richness of the approach and reduce paradoxes.
Behind two words and two approaches that could be considered too conceptual, the specificity of SI is to remain an operational actor in the field, always driven by the desire to remain as close as possible to the populations affected by crises.
All the qualitative levers are activated with a single concern: to maintain a sense of action and commitment for and as close as possible to the people in the most fragile and remote areas.
Who is Anne-Lise Lavaur ?
After studying political science and children’s rights, Anne-Lise Lavaur joined international organizations (Médecins du Monde Argentina, International Catholic Child Bureau), and became a program coordinator and advocacy officer.
In 2014, she joined SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL in the technical and quality department of the programs of which she became the coordinator eight months later. In 2018, this department evolved into the Deputy Program Operations Department (DPOD). Through the coordination of the team of technical and program referents, this department at the heart of operations guarantees the Quality and Innovation approach of the organization.