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Update of the Nutrition in Emergencies Coordination Handbook: A product of the Nutrition Cluster

By Vivienne Forsythe, Jacqueline Frize and Nicki Connell

Vivienne Forsythe and Jacqueline Frize are independent public health and nutrition consultants, each with over 20 years of humanitarian experience, hired by Save the Children (SC) to carry out the handbook update consultation process and revision. Nicki Connell is Save the Children’s Emergency Nutrition Advisor who was the Project Manager for the revision of the Handbook.

The project was managed by Save the Children and the first phase was conducted by independent consultants Jacqueline Frize and Vivienne Forsythe from March 2016 to May 2017. The final review was led by independent consultant Leah Richardson from July to October 2017 and the Global Nutrition Cluster Coordination Team (GNC-CT).

Update process

Version 1 of the Nutrition Cluster Handbook – A Practical Guide for Field Coordination (2013) has been revised to reflect the significant changes and developments in Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) guidance and tools, in line with the Transformative Agenda (TA), the outcome of the Word Humanitarian Summit in 2016 ( and to incorporate the learning and operational experience of the Nutrition Cluster over the last five years.

A comprehensive, consultative process was undertaken to update the handbook. Generic humanitarian response materials and Nutrition Cluster-specific reference materials were comprehensively reviewed. A consultative process was carried out based on 20 key informant interviews (KIIs) with Nutrition Cluster Coordinators (NCCs), Nutrition Cluster Information Management Officers (IMOs), Nutrition Cluster Partners (NCPs), members of the Global Nutrition Cluster Cooordination Team (GNC-CT) and UNICEF’s Office of Emergency Programmes (EMOPS) Global Cluster Coordination Unit (GCCU). The KIIs aimed to garner a breadth of views and opinions on required changes in terms of both structure and content. This was followed by a document review. A consultative group made up of NCCs and NCPs was established to provide support and technical oversight to the consultants. Structure and content of the revised and renamed Nutrition in Emergencies (NiE) Coordination Handbook was agreed by the GNC-CT and SC. Chapters were drafted, peer reviewed by the GNC-CT, SC members, other NCCs and NCPs and revised accordingly. Each chapter was reviewed by the GNC-CT and SC with a minimum of two (and most often four) other individuals.

Structure, scope and content

The aim was to meet the diverse needs of users and contexts. Demand ranged from succinct guidance on coordination during a humanitarian crisis to content accessible to national actors on preparedness and transition, and guidance on coordination in slow-onset crises where there is no formal cluster activation.

The handbook is structured around the Cluster Coordination Reference Module 2015 (CCRM)1 and the Humanitarian Project Cycle 2015 (HPC)2, which did not exist when the last version of the handbook was developed in 2013. These provided a helpful framework to structure content to address each of these situations (see Box 1). The new structure emphasises establishing and maintaining the coordination platform in support of the response (Section One) before moving on to coordination and implementation (Section Two). There is greater focus on the role of national authorities and sharing leadership with government, sub-national level coordination, the role of UNICEF as Cluster Lead Agency (CLA), the role and responsibility of partners, bridging the divide between emergency and longer-term development, transition-related issues and a multi-cluster integrated approach. Following feedback, sections on nutrition technical/programming were reduced since they are not the primary focus of the handbook.

Additional new materials have been incorporated. These include generic humanitarian assistance materials, such as the CCRM, HPC guidance, Cluster Coordination Performance Monitoring, the various Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) protocols and commitments, as well as other Nutrition Cluster guidance and tools. Best-practice tips and operational examples are incorporated throughout the handbook, such as examples of different models of leadership of Technical Working Groups (TWGs) and sub-national clusters and models of working with government.

Box 1: Structure and content

Section One of the Handbook covers NiE and humanitarian principles, protocols, coordination mechanisms and standards, as follows:

Chapter 1: Humanitarian principles, protocols and coordination mechanisms.

Chapter 2: Establishing and maintaining nutrition in emergency coordination functions in support of response (structured around the CCRM).

Chapter 3: Core Cluster functions (structured around the CCRM).

Chapter 4: Key coordination skills.

Chapter 5: Information management to support emergency nutrition response.

Chapter 6: Nutrition Cluster transition and deactivation.

Section Two of the Handbook focuses on developing and supporting the implementation of emergency nutrition strategic response through the various phases of the Humanitarian Programme Cycle as outlined in the HPC Guidance (developed in 2015):

Chapter 7: The Nutrition Cluster response / a multi-cluster approach.

Chapter 8: Coordinating nutrition in emergency preparedness.

Chapter 9: Coordinating nutrition assessment and analysis.

Chapter 10: Developing the Nutrition Cluster Strategic Response Plan.

Chapter 11: Mobilising resources for the Nutrition Cluster response.

Chapter 12: Supporting and monitoring the implementation of the Nutrition Cluster Strategic Response Plan. 

Considerations in the update process

Several crucial humanitarian assistance initiatives were underway during the revision period. Content from these was included where possible and schedules were extended to allow for this. Ongoing initiatives include:

  • The 2016 World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) and Grand Bargain and subsequent New Ways of Working (NWOW 2017) as outlined by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in 2017. (These have significant impact on Nutrition Cluster operations; NWOW 2017 promotes collective action, which involves enhancing a multi-sector approach and linkages with development programming and advocates building the capacity and role of local agencies, including increased funding opportunities, and promotes multi-year funding mechanisms where appropriate.
  • The Sphere handbook is under revision in 2017 and due out in 2018. Relevant components will need to be reflected in a future update.
  • Ongoing development of UNICEF Nutrition Cluster Transition and Deactivation Guidance, due out in 2018. The handbook has incorporated current guidance on best practice from this initiative.
  • The Global Nutrition Cluster (GNC) and Global Food Security Cluster (GFSC) are in the early stages of developing a training package on integration to achieve better nutrition outcomes. Relevant elements of this package may need to be incorporated into the new Handbook.

In many humanitarian situations, humanitarian coordination and emergency nutrition coordination may be carried out in a context where Clusters are not formally activated. It was therefore critical to ensure that content was both relevant and accessible, including language and terminology, to both cluster and non-cluster scenarios.

Striking a balance between appropriate level of detail to include and organising the information to accommodate different levels of user experience was a challenge. Inexperienced emergency NCCs/NCPs need very basic information and detailed explanations; experienced coordinators and partners are looking for a quick reference document. To address this, clear headings and sub-headings are used to signpost readers.

There was a tension between incorporating new material and reducing the size of the handbook; consultation helped to identify sections and chapters to reduce. Different users prefer a print edition versus an electronic one, so both will be produced. The process highlighted the limited tools available in French and the need for handbook translation. 

Schedule for release

The new handbook will be available in English (with forthcoming French version) at:  




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Vivienne Forsythe, Jacqueline Frize and Nicki Connell (). Update of the Nutrition in Emergencies Coordination Handbook: A product of the Nutrition Cluster. Field Exchange 56, December 2017. p35.



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