Between 2010 and 2014 Denmark provided almost DKK 9.2 billion in humanitarian assistance. During this period annual humanitarian funding increased by 47%, from DKK 1.5 billion in 2010 to DKK 2.2 billion in 2014. The Strategy for Danish Humanitarian Action 2010-2015 sets out the overall objectives, key directions and priorities underpinning this assistance, and the instruments used to implement the Strategy.
In 2014 Danida commissioned Itad to conduct the first comprehensive evaluation of Danida’s humanitarian action since 1999. The evaluation has two specific objectives: to inform Danida’s decision making and strategic direction when formulating its new strategy for humanitarian action after 2015; and to document the results achieved under the Strategy.
This synthesis report presents the findings of the evaluation against six overarching evaluation questions, drawing on case study interviews and data collection in South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as interviews with Danida and its partners at headquarters level. One challenge with the current Strategy is that it does not include indicators or a results framework for monitoring implementation and measuring the achievement of objectives. This makes it difficult to assess Danida’s implementation of the Strategy in detail.
The Humanitarian Strategy remains relevant despite changes in the humanitarian context, partly because the Strategy was farsighted in including issues such as vulnerability, resilience and innovation, which have become increasingly important. It is broad in its scope, having 47 priorities, but the Humanitarian Action, Civil Society and Personnel Advisors department (HCP) has identified a hierarchy among them. Also, Danida has made the strategic decision to focus on three areas that have subsequently guided its funding decisions and approach. It has developed longer-term partnerships with a limited number of Danish NGOs and international organisations, focused on protection in conflict-affected contexts (rather than on the strategic direction on climate change and natural hazards), and committed to deeper engagement in selected chronic crises. The evaluation found this decision to be justifiable, particularly the focus on partnerships, which current partners strongly endorsed.
Although Danida is focusing on a limited number of protracted crises, it is able to ensure adequate coverage of its humanitarian assistance through four means: (a) by giving partners flexibility to respond within crisis-affected regions, rather than focusing on specific countries; (b) by allocating flexible funds to NGO partners and UNHCR to respond to sudden-onset crises outside the priority crises; (c) by providing additional funding outside framework agreements for new emergencies; and (d) by providing significant funding to the Central Emergency Response Fund, which responds to acute emergencies as well as under-funded crises.
The evaluation questions emphasised the strategic priorities of targeting assistance to the most vulnerable, gender-sensitive programming, promoting protection from gender-based violence and accountability to affected populations. However, partner reporting on these issues is not consistent and do not specifically identify the results achieved. These priorities should be the foundation of good humanitarian programmes so it is not unreasonable for Danida to expect partners to incorporate them into their programming systematically and to demonstrate that they are doing this.
Despite substantial staff cuts, HCP is managing a growing proportion of the aid budget. It also engages in policy dialogue and with the governance of international organisations, and is providing increasing support to Ministers on humanitarian crises. It is able to do this due to the quality of its staff but stretched resources mean that it has not been able to follow up on results to the extent foreseen in the Strategy.
Denmark’s level of engagement in global policy forums and on the boards of international organisations is impressive. As part of its commitment to multilateralism, Denmark has sought to strengthen the work of international organisations and the humanitarian system’s effectiveness by taking on leadership roles. Its partnership with UNHCR is a good example of how a relatively small donor can exert considerable influence by combining funding with active involvement from both Copenhagen and Geneva. Denmark currently advocates on a broad range of humanitarian issues, including that of protection in specific crises, which it has raised in several forums, such as during its chairmanship of the Humanitarian Liaison Working Group in 2013. Other donor missions in Geneva and New York noted that it is difficult to identify the specific contribution of a single donor to policy discussions, but the Solutions Alliance is an interesting example of Denmark combining engagement on the issue of protracted displacement with support for UNHCR to address a particularly challenging problem. This demonstrates that Danida’s strong partnerships, which go beyond funding agreements, support its policy work and advocacy role.
Danida promotes coordination between humanitarian actors through a range of mechanisms. It has also been active in the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) initiative. However, its limited humanitarian presence at field level has restricted its ability to participate actively in policy discussions and donor coordination at country level.
In particular, partners responding to the Syria crisis called for Denmark to have a voice at country and/or regional level. This would enable it to promote the GHD principles in a highly politicised context.
Danida’s partners strongly endorsed its partnership approach and were highly appreciative of the quality of its funding (notably its flexibility and support for innovation and new approaches, so that Danida’s funding plays a catalytic role). Partners also value the predictability of the framework agreements and emphasised that the quality of Danida’s funding set it apart from other donors. While the partnership is based on trust, Danida works to ensure that partners have robust administrative, financial and reporting systems in place. It places less emphasis on independent verification of the results delivered for affected populations, particularly in the case of international organisations. This is a potential challenge because even strong systems do not always translate into effective programmes. It also makes it more difficult for Danida to base funding levels on performance criteria and to assess whether it is working with the most effective partners.
Danida has been active in promoting the adherence by NGO partners to humanitarian and accountability standards. Although partners do not have to report on their accountability to affected populations, they tend to have mechanisms in place. However, these are not always effective at providing clear information or responding to recipients’ concerns. Danida’s partners attempt to target humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable and use different tools for this; but they could refine their targeting through more systematic vulnerability analyses.
Danida has four potential mechanisms for assessing partner performance. One of these is engagement on the boards of international organisations, where it has used its position to advocate for the strengthening of systems for reporting results. Danida could, however, complement this with a range of mechanisms for assessing results at field level to go beyond partner self-reporting on the results achieved through its humanitarian funding.
A second mechanism for assessing partner performance is documented results such as annual reports, reviews and evaluations but this has been of limited value for a number of reasons. These include the variations in reporting that make it difficult for Danida to identify and aggregate the results achieved; the provision of NGO reports 11 months after the end of a financial year, which reduces their utility; and the length of some reports, which HCP staff do not have time to read in detail due to other demands.
Danida makes extensive use of the third mechanism of informal, verbal communication to gather information about partner programming and challenges. This is through frequent telephone conversations with NGO partners as well as information gathered through the Geneva and New York missions.
Danida has limited capacity for using the fourth mechanism, following-up on programme delivery at field level because it is difficult for HCP staff members to travel to the field to follow-up on projects owing to time constraints and a restricted travel budget. Embassies have little capacity for following up on humanitarian projects and all MFA staff have to comply with security restrictions that make it difficult to travel to project sites in insecure areas. However, it could make greater use of independent reviews and evaluations, whether commissioned by Danida or directly by partners.
There are a number of areas of common ground between the Humanitarian Strategy and policy and strategy documents related to development assistance, including a commitment to respect humanitarian principles and to strengthen linkages between the two forms of assistance. The challenge is to ensure complementary and holistic programming in practice. Currently, humanitarian aid is managed in Copenhagen while embassies are responsible for development programmes but the programme managers provide input into each other’s decision-making processes. This collaboration is facilitated by the fact that Danida focuses both its humanitarian and development assistance on fragile and conflict-affected contexts. But there are also several barriers to ensuring greater cooperation between HCP and the embassies. These include:
- stretched resources at both levels;
- a lack of clarity about the extent to which embassies are responsible for following-up on humanitarian activities;
- very little sense of joint responsibility for Danida’s assistance to a country overall and to following-up on results;
- a lack of adequate humanitarian expertise at embassy level.
The country policy and country programme documents represent an opportunity to ensure synergies at programmatic level. While country policy papers cover the full spectrum of Denmark’s engagement with a given country, country programme papers tend to cover only the development programme managed at embassy level. The recent Somalia country programme document is an exception and a potential example of how these could promote and reflect a more coordinated approach to the different forms of assistance.
Danida is highly respected as a donor that adheres to many of the GHD principles.
In particular, partners appreciated the timeliness, flexibility and predictability of its funding and its willingness to accept global reports. The Strategy reflects several other GHD principles as well. Like other Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donors, Danida channels around 60% of its humanitarian funding through UN agencies and UN-managed pooled funds. However, these partners do not always adhere to the same GHD principles when passing funds on to NGO partners and Danida should take this into consideration during the Strategy revision process.
HCP works with its partners to ensure that they undertake needs assessments and that programming decisions are based on humanitarian needs. While it analyses information on humanitarian needs and funding when selecting priority crises and allocating additional funds to crises, it could document this decision making better to increase transparency.
Danida’s partners were positive about the broad scope of the Strategy because it reflects their priorities and provides considerable flexibility. However, some interviewees felt that 47 strategic priorities are too many to guide Danida’s humanitarian assistance effectively and, therefore, the revised Strategy should be more focused while also addressing emerging challenges in the humanitarian context; this includes the issues that have been raised in discussions around the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS). Danida could focus on areas where it has already built up experience but which are not addressed well by other donors (such as protection and coordination). It could also build on its comparative advantage of flexible funding and strategic partnerships.
Danida’s current approach to following-up on the results delivered by partners has been to focus on whether they have adequate systems in place and to rely heavily on partner self-reporting. It has placed less emphasis on independent verification of the results delivered, particularly in the case of international organisations. This is in line with Danida’s culture of trust as well as its view that it should support partners’ own tracking of results and learning. However, even strong systems do not always translate into effective programmes and reviews have identified weaknesses in the reporting systems of a number of partners. This suggests that, as part of implementing the priority of a greater focus on results, it is important for Danida to use a variety of mechanisms to increase independent oversight of its partners’ programmes.
Danida’s partners are very appreciative of its approach to implementing the strategic direction on strengthening partnerships because they regard Danida as a genuine partner, not simply as a donor. However, it is currently challenging for Danida to base its funding levels on performance criteria and to assess whether it is working with the most effective partners. While Danida has made efforts to engage with non-DAC donors in policy dialogues, it channels its assistance through traditional partners – UN agencies, Danish NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross. However, local, national and regional actors are playing a greater role in humanitarian assistance and the consultations for the WHS have led to a strong call for supporting localised responses. Therefore, as part of the Strategy revision process, Danida needs to ensure that it is working with the most effective partners and identify how best to support more localised responses (whether through the networks of its NGO partners or more creative partnerships with non-DAC donors).
Danida, like other donors, is grappling with how best to strengthen the links between its humanitarian and development assistance without risking compromising its humanitarian principles, particularly since its assistance is focused on conflict-affected contexts. How humanitarian and development actors can work together better to deliver better results for affected populations is one of the questions being explored during consultations for the WHS. This is going to be increasingly important as humanitarian actors struggle to respond to rapidly growing humanitarian needs and development actors are more active in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. Therefore, Danida senior management will need to address the barriers highlighted by the evaluation and incentivise change.
There are four main recommendations listed below. Although the recommendations have been targeted at different actors according to who will have primary responsibility for implementation, it is expected that all the recommendations will be implemented through a collaborative approach across MFA departments.
- Danida should undertake an inclusive consultation process to revise the Strategy and secure buy-in for a revised Strategy that is more focused on a limited set of priorities, which are based on its comparative advantage. It should be explicit about the outcomes that it seeks to achieve through each priority. Then, the priorities could act as an organising principle running through Danida’s advocacy and policy engagement through partnership agreements to assessing the results achieved with its funding. The revised Strategy should also include indicators to help measure the implementation of key priorities and an action plan to guide Strategy implementation.
- Danida should strengthen its focus on results, including field-level follow-up of programme delivery. This would involve defining clearly the results on which it expects partners to report, financing a help-desk function that would increase HCP’s capacity for tracking results and analysis without requiring an increase in staffing, working with other donors on joint evaluations, and using a range of mechanisms to strengthen its follow-up at field level.
- HCP should allocate funding to partners on the basis of performance and ensure that it works with the most effective partners. As part of this, it should review the programme delivery and results for affected populations achieved by all partners every three to four years and find alternative partners where necessary. Danida should also consider whether its level of humanitarian funding to UN agencies is appropriate, given efficiency considerations and that they often fail to pass on the benefits of Danida’s adherence to the GHD principles to their implementing partners.
- Danida should ensure greater complementarity between its humanitarian and development assistance. Actions to achieve this would include strengthening capacity within embassies to follow-up on Danida-funded humanitarian assistance and engage in field-level humanitarian policy dialogue and donor coordination in major crises; fostering greater collaboration between different actors in a particular crisis through the use of task forces to promote coordination and better follow-up of Danida-funded interventions; and ensuring that embassy staff working on development assistance in countries with humanitarian crises understand the interconnections between vulnerability, stability, strengthening state capacity, development assistance and humanitarian action so that they can work more effectively in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.