How does Integrity Action engage with change? Reflecting on ODIs 'How we are changing humanitarian action' event

sean.darby Oct 4, 2017

Integrity Action recently made a big step in applying its Community Integrity Building (CIB) methodology to the humanitarian sector, specifically monitoring the reconstruction of homes after the earthquake in Nepal in 2015 (read our President’s blog here). Although the humanitarian and development sectors are considered to be quite different; there are some important similarities; 1) these sectors provide resources in areas or communities in order to improve the quality of people’s lives; 2) these sectors are both occupied by international, national and local actors in both the non-profit and private sectors, and finally 3) they exist to work themselves out of a job; when development happens as it should, a community becomes self-sustaining; when disaster response happens as it should, a community becomes resilient.

Integrity Action had the opportunity to attend an event hosted by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) chaired by John Mitchell of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) entitled, ‘How are we changing humanitarian action?’ The panel included András Derzsi-Horváth of the Global Public Policy Institute, Sir Brendan Gormley of the CDAC network and Accountable Now, Paul Knox-Clarke, the author of the paper being discussed and Melissa Pitotti who is Head of Policy at the International Council of Voluntary Agencies.

This event was to reflect on ALNAPs’ recent publication ‘Transforming change; how change really happens and what we can do about it’, discusses the different mechanisms by which change occurs. This was focused on how the ‘cogs’ within the humanitarian sector could change the way they are organised in response to how different ways of working illicit the greatest change on the ground. As the chair opened, ‘we spend a lot of time debating what needs to change in our sector and why. But do we look enough at how that change happens?’ To do this, organisations working within the humanitarian sector have to look internally, being self-critical in order to identify components of their operations that are redundant to their end mission and to also respond to growing knowledge and evidence about what approaches work the best.

The discussion highlighted the importance of any sector to be self-critical, in order to change in a way that instigates the most positive impact. A traditional approach to change is described as ‘mechanistic’, which is characterised by the internally generated impact to change, often imposed through organisational ‘structures and procedures’ such as training and communication, which are expected to induce change in a ‘linear and rational’ way [1].  This approach is widely recognised in the humanitarian sector but one that is seen as inflexible and inconsiderate to different cultures both between organisations and within communities on the ground. The paper offers more inclusive and responsive approaches to change; holistically named, ‘the system as society’; ‘the system as an eco-system’ and ‘the system as a mind.’

‘Change’ in a system can be seen in many ways, but with what we experience in the development sector it can be seen as resembling an eco-system. An eco-system represents the many types of actors that interact with each other to ensure that under-developed communities have access to the opportunities and resources that would enable them to become self-sustaining. Actors within the eco-system may have different levels of influence about how change occurs, but each has to be considered in order for an organisation to fully understand how, and maximise the potential of, their actions in translating into change on the ground.

In Integrity Action’s ‘eco-system,’ unlike in other humanitarian and development organisations, the citizens in the community possess the largest influence on the change process. This is something we strive for in our approach, having observed the redundancy of top-down enforced processes that ignore the cultural and societal context they are being applied to. People in need of resources and services, whether as a citizen, a beneficiary, or as part of a Civil Society Organisation have a greater ability to influence change by working collectively than we could ever accomplish by working independently.

Paul Knox-Clarke suggested 5 internal changes which organisations could make that were consistent throughout all the proposed systems, these were;

  1. Bring people together - this is to reflect social reality as closely as possible, so that ways that change is planned to happen becomes more inevitable.
  2. Copy, don’t design - instead of re-designing the way you work in the belief that it might increase the rate of change, identify what is working and maximise that potential.
  3. Act, don’t plan - time taken on planning about how to influence change is pointless as the mechanism of change can only be evaluated when plans are put into action.
  4. Create a set of boundaries for change - allow flexibility for change to happen, as unexpected ways it could occur can become apparent.
  5. Put people at the centre - good communication and most importantly, participation of people who the humanitarian and development sectors exist to serve, will make any plan for change more likely to happen as it limits blockers of change and increases support. 

These criteria are something we hoped to emulate when we applied our approach in the humanitarian sector.  Our pilot project in the district of Sindulpalchok in Nepal applied our methodology to a process which had attracted international attention; demonstrated by the $4.1 billion raised to re-build homes within 2 years. [2] The potential for CIB to improve the delivery in the building of homes and to engage beneficiaries was explored with the funder, Swiss Solidarity and implementing agencies Helvetas and Solidar during a 6 month project. We brought people together to mobilise citizens to engage with Helvetas, Solidar and Swiss Solidarity, in order to bring about change in the interest of the beneficiary population; using knowledge learnt from our work in the development sector to copy our approach in a different sector. We acted on our methodology, but we were willing to absorb lessons and insights that could accelerate change. And of course, as our CEO often states, ‘putting people at the centre is our bread and butter.’

This is not to say that we have all of the answers about how to initiate change within the communities we affect. Like the humanitarian sector, we are constantly developing and learning, so that changes we make to our own internal ‘eco-system’ only have positive outcomes. By complimenting and serving the much greater influence that people within developing communities possess, that really makes change a reality.  

[1] Clarke (2017). Transforming change; how change really happens and what we can do about it. ALNAP.