Menu ENN Search

Development of a competency framework for the nutrition in emergencies sector

Summary of published paper1

Location: Global

What we know: There has been increased investment in and attention to professional development of humanitarian staff. There are national and international capacity gaps in nutrition in emergencies (NIE). A NIE competency framework does not exist. Competency frameworks are used as a basis for recruitment, training, professional development and continuous learning in many sectors.

What this article adds: A technical competency framework for NIE is proposed, modelled on existing humanitarian frameworks. NIE competencies are categorised as core (professional and humanitarian) and technical (a behavioural indicator). The NIE framework contains twenty competency areas with 161 behavioural indicators categorised into three levels (reflecting seniority). The framework has been adopted for preliminary use by Concern Worldwide, World Vision, Valid International and International Medical Corps. While the majority of the technical skills are covered in NIE training courses, many general core competencies are neglected and thus limit effectiveness in the field.

A key aspect of the humanitarian reform process has involved developing capacity. The 2005 Humanitarian Response Review noted: “there are simply not enough people with the right experience available quickly”. In response, there has been increased investment in training and professional development for existing and future cadres of humanitarian staff. A recognised set of standards for humanitarian staff would arguably improve performance and promote quality and accountability. The result has been the development of a number of competency2 frameworks, which are increasingly being used to measure ability and to structure training.

Despite serious gaps in national and international capacity on nutrition, no technical competency framework has been developed to describe the skills required for emergency nutrition preparedness, response and recovery. The Nutrition in Emergencies Regional Training Initiative (NIERTN), which aims to provide sustainable, high-quality training in nutrition in emergencies (NIE), highlighted the need for a more detailed examination of the role of emergency nutritionists and the skills required. A recently published paper documents the process of developing a proposed technical competency framework for NIE and discusses some of the potential opportunities and challenges to its implementation as a tool to strengthen human resource capacity.

Key features

The key features of a competency framework were identified from the review of existing frameworks and, using these as a guide, the NIE competencies identified were categorised as either core or technical. Core professional competencies are regarded as those that are needed to function effectively in a work environment and include behaviours such as the ability to communicate and work effectively with others, while core humanitarian competencies include behaviours that are required for humanitarian work, such as the application of humanitarian principles. Competencies that already feature in the existing core humanitarian frameworks were removed to avoid replication. The competencies were then assigned to a technical domain and where necessary, re-formulated into a behavioural indicator. Expressing competencies in the form of behavioural indicators facilitates the use of a framework as a tool for assessing ability and performance. Each behavioural indicator was then allocated to one of three levels, corresponding to progressive seniority within the sector. This allocation was done using NIE job specifications for posts requiring varying levels of professional experience.


The identification of NIE competencies was comprehensive and consisted of four stages. First, existing competency frameworks, course curricula and emergency nutrition job specifications were reviewed and relevant competencies extracted. Frameworks, courses and job specifications were included only if they featured an aspect of emergency nutrition. Second, semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of ‘field experts’ working for humanitarian organisations. Third, participants from NIE courses held in Uganda, Thailand and Lebanon in 2010 and 2011 were contacted to identify which skills they felt were essential for their roles in emergency nutrition. Finally, the compiled list of competencies was reviewed by members of the Capacity Development Working Group of the Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC-CDWG) during the second half of 2011.

Framework structure

Six humanitarian competency frameworks were identified and reviewed which led to the proposed structure for the NIE framework shown in Table 1. A total of fifty-six NIE job specifications were identified with roles ranging from graduate entry level to those requiring over 10 years’ experience. Job titles included nutrition advisers, coordinators, programme managers and chiefs of health and nutrition. The hiring organisations consisted of international humanitarian non-governmental organisations (NGO) and United Nations (UN) agencies, with thirty-six and twenty job specifications, respectively.

Table 1: Proposed structure for NIE competency framework


Level 1
Level 2
Level 3
name of
for fieldlevel
Required for
team coordinators/
Required for
country and
level technical


The full competency framework contains twenty competency areas with 161 behavioural indicators categorised into three levels. The competencies identified as essential for any individual working within NIE are diverse, encompassing common core competencies, such as communication and teamwork; humanitarian competencies essential to all humanitarian workers, such as knowledge and application of humanitarian system and standards; and nutrition specific technical areas, such as identification of micronutrient deficiencies. This leads to a layered approach to building a competency framework, which is based on the Child Protection in Emergencies (CPIE) framework (Save the Children 2010) and shown in Figure 1.

The framework has since been adopted for preliminary use by Concern Worldwide, World Vision, Valid International and International Medical Corps.



Across the sectors reviewed, competency frameworks are used as a basis for recruitment, development of training and for professional development and continuous learning; the medical sector is particularly well researched. Recognised benefits include the introduction of transparent standards and increased public accountability. There are recognised limitations to the approach, including an increased administrative burden and possibility of a focus on achieving acceptable minimum standards rather than the best that is possible. Despite these limitations, competency-based learning is now dominant at most stages of medical training in high-income countries.

Those with a lack of formal academic qualifications, such as a relevant BSc, MSc or professional training certificate, are not necessarily excluded in this process as the essence of a competency-based approach is that individuals are assessed on skills and attributes that may have been gained through experience or personal development.

The framework can also be used to standardise training courses, by relating the indicators to learning objectives. Competency-based training naturally leads on to competency-based assessment methods. In the medical sector, assessing technical and behavioural competencies through observation of simulated situations is a valid method. This approach facilitates the assessment of a person’s behaviours, such as decision-making capacity, in addition to technical competencies.

Staff can use the framework as a self-assessment tool, grading themselves for each competency and identifying areas which would benefit from further development. The competency areas in which they score lower, or areas which they would like to develop, can then be focused upon, with the behavioural indicators providing clear examples of what is required to attain each level.

When comparing the competencies identified in the framework, there is a clear difference between what was identified as essential from job specifications and interviews and what is currently being taught in the NIE academic and training courses. While the majority of the technical skills are covered, many general core competencies are sorely neglected and were noted as limiting effectiveness in the field.

Many of the required competencies are not specific to emergency nutrition but overlap with disaster preparedness, recovery and long-term development work, e.g. data collection and surveys is a competency area required by both emergency and non-emergency nutritionists. There is also strong overlap with other humanitarian sectors such as food security and logistics. While there is need to strengthen nutrition capacity in both development and emergency contexts and development nutritionists inevitably respond in chronic emergencies, a separate competency framework for NIE is warranted given the unique set of skills, knowledge and behaviour needed. In addition, the mechanisms by which staff are recruited, assessed and supported usually differ between the development and emergency sectors.

The move to a competency-based approach is a logical step to strengthen the NIE sector and build human resource capacity. However, it is essential that indicators for monitoring and evaluating the use of competency frameworks are defined in order to build an evidence base on their use not just within NIE, but within the humanitarian sector as a whole.

Show footnotes

1Meeker. J et al (2013). Development of a competency frame work for the nutrition in emergencies sector. Public Health Nutrition: page 1 of 11 doi:10.1017/S1368980013002607

2Competencies are defined as the behaviours and technical attributes that individuals must have, or acquire, to perform effectively in a particular role.

More like this

FEX: Experiences of the Nutrition in Emergencies Regional Training Initiative

By Abigail Perry, Jessica Meeker, and Andrew Seal, UCL Centre for International Health and Development (UCL-CIHD) Abigail Perry is a nutritionist with extensive experience in...

en-net: Nutrition Specialist (Information), P-4, ESARO, Nairobi , Kenya, # 71810

Job no: 494442 Work type: Fixed Term Staff Location: Kenya Categories: Nutrition, P-4 If you are a committed, creative professional and are passionate about making a...

FEX: The impact of the NiE regional training initiative: the Lebanon experience 2010-2014

By Hala Ghattas (American University of Beirut), Linda Shaker Berbari (International Orthodox Christian Charities) & Omar Obeid (American University of Beirut). Hala Ghattas...

FEX: Strengthening nutrition humanitarian action: Supporting humanitarian cluster/sector coordination transition

By Peter Hailey and Brenda Akwanyi Peter Hailey is founding Director of the Centre for Humanitarian Change (CHC), a humanitarian think tank based in East Africa. He has over...

FEX: Global Nutrition Cluster e-learning platform

View this article as a pdf The Global Nutrition Cluster's (GNC) online learning platform provides access to e-learning modules related to nutrition cluster coordination (CC)...

en-net: UNICEF Mali seeks Nutrition Cluster Coordinator

To coordinate the Nutrition Cluster in Mali and provide technical support to the Government of Mali on nutrition coordination. Level: P3 Duration: 364 days PURPOSE OF POST On...

FEX: Summary of Global Nutrition Cluster meeting

By the Global Nutrition Cluster Coordination Team The Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC), under the umbrella of the Interagency Standing Committee (IASC), is committed to...

en-net: Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Integrated nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions

Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Integrated nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions Closing Date Mon Jun 10 2019 10:55:00 GMT+0700...

en-net: Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in CMAM

Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Community Management of Acute Malnutrition Closing Date Mon Jun 10 2019 10:55:00 GMT+0700 (Indochina...

en-net: National Nutrition Cluster Co-coordinator South Sudan: Concern Worldwide

National Nutrition Cluster Co-Coordinator, South Sudan About the role: This is a 12 month, role with unaccompanied terms based in Juba with a salary of Grade 6 (€44,883 -...

en-net: Nutrition Specialist, P-3, NETI, Various Duty Stations - Generic Vacancy Announcement

Job no: 498194 Work type: Fixed Term Staff, Temporary Appointment Location: Angola, Botswana, Burundi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, State of...

en-net: Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Micronutrient supplementation in emergencies

Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Micronutrient supplementation in emergencies Closing Date Mon Jun 10 2019 10:55:00 GMT+0700 (Indochina...

en-net: Current opportunities Job search Back to search Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in IYCF-E

Consultant roster for Nutrition Cluster partners in Infant and Young child feeding in emergencies Closing Date Mon Jun 10 2019 10:55:00 GMT+0700 (Indochina...

FEX: Nutrition in Emergencies: New Regional Training Courses in Africa, Asia and the Middle East

Are you interested in learning how to protect the nutrition of populations affected by humanitarian disasters? Do you want to develop the skills to deliver the wide range of...

Nutrition in Emergencies (NiE) pre-service and in-service training

Donors: OFDA Collaborators: NutritionWorks (NW) ENN project lead: Marie McGrath Timeframe: ended 2011 Background The objective of this two year project was to build...

en-net: Nutrition short course relevant for health workers/researchers working in developing countries

Anyone aware of a university offering a short course in Nutrition whose content will be relevant for health workers and researchers working in Africa. Please send in the...

en-net: UNHCR: Senior Nutrition Officer, P4, Geneva

Organizational Setting and Work Relationships The Senior Nutrition Officer is ultimately responsible for providing technical support, coordination, policy and planning,...

FEX: Improving Training in Nutrition in Emergencies

Summary of workshop report1 An international workshop on improving training in emergency nutrition was held in Nairobi on November 6th and 7th 20082. The workshop brought...

en-net: UNICEF is looking for a Nutrition Cluster/Sector Coordinator in Niger

Location: Niamey, Niger Position: P4/TA Opening Time: Tue May 16 14:05:00 UTC+0100 2017 Closing Time: Tue May 30 23:55:00 UTC+0100 2017 UNICEF works in 190 countries and...

en-net: Nutrition Technical Advisor - Opportunity at IRC Requisition ID: req6796 Job Title: Nutrition Technical Advisor Sector:...


Reference this page

Summary of published paper (). Development of a competency framework for the nutrition in emergencies sector. Field Exchange 47, April 2014. p26.



Download to a citation manager

The below files can be imported into your preferred reference management tool, most tools will allow you to manually import the RIS file. Endnote may required a specific filter file to be used.