Community update: MEAL (November 2019): Measuring the relevance of aid

Volker Hüls
Volker Hüls
Volker Hüls is Global MEAL Advisor for the Danish Refugee Council.
Volker has 20 years' experience in international assistance, with most of these at the nexus between humanitarian and development programs. Before his international work, he was a civil protection practitioner in Germany. He currently works as Global Advisor for Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability, and Learning (MEAL) at the Danish Refugee Council, based in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Photo: Michiel Pols

Community updates provide brief highlights from expert practitioners about what they see as the key developments in a specific area, what resources they would recommend, and what to look out for in the coming months.

Key developments in the area of MEAL

Last month was the annual meeting of ALNAP, the humanitarian learning network. The overall theme of the meeting was "relevance," so I wanted to use this month's updates to reflect on the relevance of aid as well as highlight some of the topics discussed at the conference.

The dimensions of "relevance"

To be relevant, we need to work in several different dimensions, and across all parts of the humanitarian program cycle. We need to listen to people about their needs, but then we need to provide it in a meaningful way, which requires our understanding to be inclusive, holistic, and dynamic. This should lead to a tailored, co-designed, and adaptive response. This was well-argued in the conference paper, which I recommend as essential reading – also because it introduces us to a new perspective on humanitarian aid, that of the "polyphony" of narratives that we need to capture to be relevant. 

Making it easier to include people at all stages of the response

I am certainly not a Luddite, but I am also realistic about what technology can do and what it can't. There are numerous uses of smartphones and tablets for surveys, and one of the challenges, especially in rapid-onset natural disasters such as the recent cyclones, is connectivity for remote areas. But there is an encouraging example of adding relevance to the response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique this year, which used SMS surveys to reach affected people and better understand their needs.

How relevant is our programming for refugee self-reliance?

With displacement dominating the world's humanitarian sphere, we all need to understand better how to achieve more than just providing for the immediate needs of the displaced. Achieving self-reliance, albeit away from home, is a significant achievement for people who lost everything, and we need to have ways to understand it better. The Refugee Self-Reliance Index is an initiative to provide a common system to measure self-reliance, to make us understand better which programs are the most relevant for the displaced.

Recommended resources

The conference paper on relevance can be found here:

This blog post summarizes the use of SMS surveys in the Cyclone Idai response:

The full information on the Refugee Self-Reliance Index can be found here:

Keep an eye out for...

The Global Refugee Forum is coming up (16-18 December), which is the big follow-up event from the establishment of the Global Compact for Refugees last year. While this is a high-level meeting, there is a marketplace of good practices and other side-events, which will also showcase the self-reliance index in a spotlight session.
The refugee self-reliance index is offering a webinar on 3 December for those who want to learn more about it.
PHAP community updates are written by members of the association and other practitioners in their personal capacity. The views expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of PHAP or any other organizations with which the author is associated.