The UN Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Nepal had a large number of new staff who needed a basic orientation to the tools and approaches of humanitarian action and inter-agency co-ordination. Moreover, the operating environment in Nepal for international aid and its co-ordination featured several important characteristics. First, there was some pressure on humanitarian actors to roll out a new approach to sector co-ordination (the cluster approach). Second, there were multiple co-ordination services and mechanisms with some degree of duplication and fragmentation. Third, there was a lacuna between the agencies that work in humanitarian and development activities, reflected in the different approaches to co-ordination. Fourth, the existence of humanitarian-oriented coordination architecture in the country was temporary, and some advance thinking about an eventual transition was required.
In the weeks prior to the training course, a major flood disaster occurred in the south of the country.
Upon arrival I redesigned the training course to accommodate the immediate learning needs of the co-ordinators who were managing the flood response. The course began with a review of the current operation, providing a valuable reflective space for staff. Critical issues were identified and lessons extracted. Following the course addressed key foundation-level knowledge for field level co-ordinators: the conceptual basis of interagency collaboration, co-ordination meetings, interagency assessments, and common standards. Then the office strategic plan was reviewed, and scenarios for the medium term debated. Evidence-based decision making was discussed. On the last day, I flew to the flood zone to run a quick seminar for operational staff and government officials.
The staff involved in the response were able to take a breath, and reflect upon how to be most effective in the circumstances. The course benefited from the presence of two OCHA staff from neighbouring Sri Lanka who served as peer reviewers and helped to benchmark the OCHA Nepal office progress. I documented the discussions of the training course in a report which contributed to the Nepal office strategic thinking. This report was also written for the training department at OCHA’s Geneva office to inform its work on an organisation-wide staff development programme.
“…an important question is about the best way for OCHA to conduct a learning, performance and strategy review mid-way through a response operation. Staff undoubtedly need the space for reflection and ‘venting’, although at the same time psychologically they are thoroughly enmeshed in the immediacy of urgent operational matters. It takes specialized skills to facilitate a mid-operation review in a way that helps staff decompress and genuinely learn. The most effective way might include one-to-one coaching, or small on-the-job quick meetings…”
“…the key strategic challenge for OCHA will be to exit Nepal in a sustainable and responsible way, building appropriate crisis co-ordination capacity in some other organization
“ …conducted a workshop for government line ministry officials in the flood affected areas…goal for was to orient line ministry officials so they could understand and co-ordinate the international system. In retrospect, this wasn’t needed. The officials were most concerned with improving co-ordination within the government, not with international organizations…”