From tick box to turning point: Getting accountability right for improved humanitarian action

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This paper identifies key challenges and essential issues that need to be addressed to create positive change for people affected by crisis. It draws on a synthesis of different types of evidence, including:

  • focus groups discussions with and survey data from people affected by crisis
  • a literature review
  • small round-table discussions with humanitarian decision-makers
  • key informant interviews with policymakers and practitioners across the sector.

The paper offers humanitarian leaders within donor organisations and operational agencies 12 key recommendations - areas that they should invest in as they grapple with accountability as one of the key sticking points holding the humanitarian system back from making progress for crisis-affected people.

The paper concludes by identifying key evidence and learning gaps to which agencies could contribute by documenting and sharing their learning, as they take steps to more firmly centre their work around the perspectives of people affected by crisis.


  • Publication language: English
  • Pages: 64pp
  • Suggested citation: Doherty, J. (2023) From tick box to turning point: Getting accountability right for improved humanitarian action. London: ALNAP


These recommendations are for decision-makers and leaders to help bring accountability out of a silo to make a practical difference to people’s lives. These are purposely not for technical community engagement and AAP people. The key recommendations would be quite different in that case.

Donor and agency leadership should invest more in the time, skills, approaches and partnerships that support deeper social and contextual understanding of communities and marginalised groups within them

Donors should support more flexible, outcome-orientated approaches to grant management for local and international agencies, to enable the latter’s use of adaptive programming that is people-responsive

Donors and operational agencies should consider how to more effectively and ethically engage the voices of crisis-affected people in making prioritisation decisions to maximise the utility of scarce resources and avoid exacerbating community tensions

Operational agencies should recognise the role of frontline staff, volunteers and local partners in gathering ad hoc community feedback through their daily interactions, and develop processes to include these inputs in programme decision-making

Operational agencies should form better links with those addressing longer-term services – including development actors, local government institutions and local civil society – to facilitate joint programming and information sharing

Humanitarian leaders should adopt adaptive management and programming approaches that focus on achieving outcomes identified by communities rather than sticking rigidly to proposal activities and outputs

Humanitarian leaders should support their organisational and staff engagement with challenging issues of politics and advocacy, to influence local duty-bearers and host governments to help secure the rights of people affected by crisis

Humanitarians should consider how to balance their measures of need and vulnerability with community perspectives of what is necessary, fair and legitimate in targeting decisions

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