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Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action

Agency Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) Website
Address ALNAP Secretariat, ODI, 111 Westminster Bridge Rd, London, SE1 7JD, UK Year formed 1997

+44 (0) 207 922 0300

Head John Mitchell
Fax +44 (0) 207 922 0399 H.Q.Staff Five permanent staff and three temporary consultants for Tsunami Evaluation Coalition.
Email Annual Income (projected core funding 2006- 07): Approx £460,000 (does not include funding for tsunami).


ALNAP is located within the offices of the Overseas Development Institute in central London. The ENN interviewed the current Head of ALNAP - John Mitchell as part of the Field Exchange agency profile series. John, who has a nutrition/anthropology background, has worked for a number of agencies over the years. Between 1984-86 he worked for the United Nations (UN) in Ethiopia. After this he set up and ran a small consultancy cooperative with luminaries like Hugo Slim and Alex de Waal called 'Rural Evaluations', specialising in participatory evaluation. John then became the food security advisor for Action Aid setting up community based monitoring systems and moved on to a six year stint with the Red Cross - eventually as their Senior Humanitarian Advisor. With such extensive and diverse professional experience it is no wonder that ALNAP head hunted John to be the ALNAP Head - a post which he eventually took up in 2002. Although the founder and original head of ALNAP, John Borton, had not been in office for a while, John Mitchell felt that he was "stepping into his foot-prints if not his shoes."

ALNAP was established after the Great Lakes multi-donor evaluation in 1994. One of the main conclusions from this groundbreaking evaluation was the need for sector wide learning and improved coordination during emergency responses. The evaluation argued for improved performance and accountability through learning - hence the birth of ALNAP.

ALNAP now has 51 member organisations (UN, bilaterals, multi-laterals, Red Cross Movement, international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), consultants and academics). Members fund the organisation and are asked to submit evaluations to ALNAP. A sample of these evaluations are then synthesised by ALNAP staff and key issues highlighted in an annual report.

John explained that ALNAP has become more sustainable over the past three years and there is now a strong funding base, with over 10 organisations providing multi-annual funding. Indeed a queue for membership is building up, although ALNAP has set a ceiling of 60 members in order to ensure manageability and preserve the culture of 'intimacy' which is a feature of the network.

There are currently five full-time ALNAP staff based at their headquarters. There are also a further three temporary staff who are working on the recently established Tsunami Evaluation Coalition (TEC) which has a budget of approximately £200,000. ALNAP has an unusual institutional status. Although it is part of ODI which provides administrative and management support, it is an independent unit which is funded and managed by its members.

Apart from the annual review of evaluations, John identified ALNAP's 'protection guide' as its most popular output. Over 2500 copies of the guide have gone out and Oxfam have recently taken over publication and distribution. The publication has already been (or in some cases is about to be) translated into numerous languages including Japanese, Arabic, Spanish, French and Indonesian.

ALNAPs flagship publication is its Review of Humanitarian Action (RHA) which is published annually and keeps track of key issues to emerge in the evaluation of humanitarian interventions. Of necessity, the review tends to focus on specific issues, e.g. last year it focussed on protection and coordination issues around the Darfur emergency, although on occasions there are more general reviews.

Each year ALNAP performs a meta-evaluation where two consultants are brought in to rate agency evaluations against ALNAP developed quality criteria. Each RHA contains a chapter describing the quality of evaluations submitted by agencies and an overview as to whether this is improving. The consultants will also visit agencies and feedback their findings.

John said that there are a number of recurring themes that crop up in the RHA and that "most of them will be instantly recognisable to humanitarians". They include lack of proportionality, i.e. level of funding for emergency responses not being proportional to need, lack of accountability, poor coordination, inadequate linkage of relief, recovery and development, protection, neglecting national staff and local capacity, and lack of beneficiary participation in programme design.

The photo shows children in a tented school in Lamren in Aceh some three and a half months after the tsunami. The school has had assistance from many different agencies, a typical feature of the tsunami response where some large projects have had support from more than 40 different agencies.

There are also a number of issues which are very "current" as far as ALNAP are concerned. These include the growing recognition of value of 'real-time' evaluations and the need for greater emphasis on joint evaluations which lead to more joined up thinking and better policy formulation. One of the most pressing issues currently occupying ALNAP is lack of utilisation of evaluation findings. In fact ALNAP are currently drafting terms of reference for research into this problem.

Another emerging issue, affecting some agencies more than others, is the fear of evaluation findings getting out into the public domain. John's experience is that in recent years, agencies have become much more open about admitting mistakes. However, post-tsunami and the enormous resources poured into this emergency, there appears to be "a bit of a blip". As John explained, the average annual humanitarian spend is about 5.4 billion US dollars yet the tsunami response totalled an enormous 14 billion US dollars. This has created sensitivity amongst some agencies that fear the media getting hold of information about mistakes and weak programming that might be translated into an onslaught about agency profligacy and unprofessionalism. As a result, the issue of agency transparency is back in the limelight.

John feels that ALNAP has now become "a mature network". In other words, it is established and here to stay. This simply reflects the perceived value of ALNAP's work to its members. This stability means that there is now real opportunity to think about the longer-term future.

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Reference this page

Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action. Field Exchange 27, March 2006. p27.



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