By Jéromine Regnier, Protection and Accountability Advisor, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL
“The Participation Revolution” is the sixth pillar of the Grand Bargain, the 2016 agreement signed by some of the humanitarian sector’s largest donors and organizations with the aim of improving the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian action. This particularly ambitious title makes clear that there is both a will and an urgent necessity to ensure that people affected by humanitarian crises have meaningful input in the decisions affecting them. Because participation is a key component of protection: it is vital to ensuring that crisis-affected people receive adequate, safe and dignified access to emergency response activities, and to human rights in general.
In spite of this commitment, several studies have shown that humanitarian actors still have significant work to do in order to reach this objective. According to a 2018 survey conducted by ALNAP (the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance), of 5,000 people affected by a humanitarian crisis, only 39% reported that humanitarian organizations had communicated well about their activities, and only 36% reported that they were able to give opinions, make complaints and suggest changes. It also bears noting that people who were able to give feedback were three times more likely to say they had been treated with dignity than people unable to give feedback. The connection between participation and protection is thus clear.
This issue is also highlighted in the 2020 Humanitarian Accountability Report, published by the CHS Alliance: despite substantial efforts towards improving communication and participation over the past few years, Commitment 4 of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability has yet to be achieved. Indeed, even with a growing number of mechanisms available to ensure feedback and communication, very little of the data collected seems to be incorporated into the development or adjustment of interventions. Similarly, the solutions offered aren’t always adapted to the specific needs of the different subgroups that make up a population.
The Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) sector is no exception when it comes to insufficient participation, whether the issue be involving future users in the development and continuous improvement of services or prioritizing public health issues. Case in point: recent studies have shown that on average 40% of women don’t use the latrines provided by humanitarian organizations. The primary reasons given: lack of lighting, fear of sexual harassment, and lack of privacy and security. These reasons reflect a blatant lack of consideration for the needs and concerns of a whole portion of the population and for the specific risks women face.
Part of the solution to these problems can be found in a groundbreaking initiative that forms part of the WASH Road Map: the Quality Assurance and Accountability System, helmed by SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL and Oxfam in collaboration with the Global WASH Cluster and Tufts University. This initiative aims to place participation, satisfaction, inclusion, security and accountability back at the centre of WASH interventions via the systematic implementation of a collective monitoring framework that uses coordination platforms to guarantee a people-centred approach based on the “Do No Harm” principle.
To this same end, SOLIDARITÉS INTERNATIONAL Lebanon has developed a solution called the SOLIS WhatsApp Bot: an instant, free, 24/7 communication channel between the organization and the people concerned by its actions. This innovative tool, which is still in its testing phase, can be used in a number of ways and is designed to place people back at the centre of humanitarian action by giving them the opportunity for meaningful, inclusive participation.
 ALNAP (2018) The State of the Humanitarian System. ALNAP Study. ALNAP/ODI, London. Note: 24% responded “partially” to the question about communication, and 22% responded “partially” to the question about feedback.
 Humanitarian Accountability Report, CHS Alliance, 2020, p. 41.
 Commitment 4 of the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability is as follows: “Communities and people affected by crisis know their rights and entitlements, have access to information and participate in decisions that affect them.”
 SaniTweaks, Best Practices in Sanitation, Oxfam, online.
 Learn more about this innovative solution : https://www.solidarites.org/en/live-from-the-field/innovation-a-whatsapp-chatbot-to-communicate-with-the-people-who-benefit-from-our-actions.