The Challenge

How do you stop or prevent violence in humanitarian crises? How do you know if your intervention has reduced risk if you can’t attribute causality to your program? How do you know who or what is the most appropriate and relevant actor or approach to help reduce risk? How do you prioritize action with so many competing areas of humanitarian concern?

The humanitarian community has come under increased pressure to achieve more meaningful results and demonstrate impact through protection programming. We need to know if and how we are contributing to an actual reduction in violence, coercion, and deliberate deprivation people experience in crises.

Protection programming is often framed in terms of activity-level outputs rather than objectives of reduced risks. In other words, we can measure how many police have been trained but we’re not able to measure whether training police forces has had any impact on the risks people face during crises.

Photo by Debashis Mukherjee

Why is it so difficult to program for – and measure — results?

1. The definition of protection is quite broad.  This contributes to the challenge of trying to measure results. If we rely on generalizations and we don’t break down the context-specific factors creating the risks people face in a more detailed and specific manner, changes in the risks will be difficult to measure and results will be difficult to demonstrate.

2. Measuring risk and risk reduction has its own set of challenges. While there has been some investment in collecting information on “protection incidents,” (e.g. number of sexual violence cases) this is often the only type of measurement used. Incident-based tracking is problematic due to under-reporting, ethical constraints, problems in interpreting data, etc. For example, women may not report rape due to fear of stigma, or the system may not be conducive for LGBTI to report cases of sexual violence and abuse, therefore skewing data.

3. The lack of an overall strategic approach to protection in humanitarian response restricts our ability to measure collective impact.  Programs are often designed and implemented in silo with little coordination towards broader desired outcomes. The lack of a strategy may result in numerous programs targeting one aspect of a protection problem while missing other aspects that need to be addressed.  Furthermore, programs may operate in parallel to existing community-based structures, undermining local capacity. For example, child friendly spaces are a popular activity to enhance child protection, however, in some cases they might be inappropriate for a community where local schools are still functional and could serve as an existing space for protection.

These challenges were highlighted in several reports:

The 2012 Independent Review Panel Report on UN’s Sri Lanka Response highlighted:

  • Inadequate contextual analysis
  • Little investment in local capacities
  • Lack of strategic orientation towards protection outcomes

The 2013 DFID study, “What Works in Protection?” noted:

  • A lack of a common protection framework restricts comparability
  • Few research studies have focused on looking at the impact of protection programming. Most evaluations focus on capacity gaps, coordination issues and other practical matters.
  • Protection interventions and how success is defined varies considerably. Any attempt to determine relative success or failure of humanitarian protection needs to distinguish between the different types of interventions and the scale of ambition associated with each.

 The 2013 Global Protection Cluster Funding Study found:

  • A need for better outcome level reporting
  • A need for better analysis of risk, understanding of existing self-protection capacities
  • A need to articulate a clear linkage between outputs to outcomes
  • A need for protection to be placed strategically at the center of humanitarian response

The humanitarian community lacks a practical, results-oriented protection framework. There is a need for an approach that is rigorous enough to demonstrate outcomes in the form of measurably reduced risk, but practical enough for field-level use during crises.  The approach must help us make informed and real-time decisions about measures to mitigate threats, reduce vulnerabilities, and enhance capacities while adapting approaches along the way.

Results-Based Protection is working to address this challenge.

Can we see any progress? Three pieces of work where results-based protection has helped to provide a strategic shift within humanitarian action include: