Operational Best Practices - From the 2014-2016 Co-Chairmanship

Under the Co-Chairmanship of the United States and Canada (2014-2016), GHD members identified operational best practices in four areas: Funding Modalities, Evidence-based Decision Making, Managing Risk, and Administrative and Accountability Requirements. GHD Members welcomed operational best practices at its Annual High Level Meeting on April 27, 2016.


The 23 Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles and Practice were elaborated in 2003 to address a growing sentiment that improved coordination and mutual learning among donors could lead to more effective humanitarian response. As eloquently stated by Ms. Carolyn McAskie, the Assistant Secretary General for UN OCHA at the time, “most donor behavior is rational from a donor point of view. However, the sum total of all donor behavior does not produce a rational whole.” Studies noted that there were few policies or principles guiding donors’ action and few initiatives to enhance learning and the application of good practice.

Since the establishment of the GHD Initiative, GHD members have worked collectively to identify “best practice” that promotes a more coherent and effective system for financing and supporting principled humanitarian action. All best practice is based on solid research and evidence commissioned by individual GHD members. Our action is guided by three underlying assumptions: 1) GHD will seek to affect change at the systems-level; 2) not all systems-level gains require a harmonization of approach by all GHD members; and 3) best practice by donors often is contingent upon improved practice by operational partners.

GHD recognizes that donor agencies are organized differently and that they have differing strengths, and believes that diversity in approaches can in some ways ensure the necessary flexibility to encompass a wide range of operational partners. For some issues, the GHD as a collective will strive to meet targets and thresholds identified as best practice, rather than asking each GHD donor to adhere to a specific practice. GHD also believes, however, that some issues demand a harmonized approach across all donors in order to achieve the desired gains for the international humanitarian system. These views are reflected in the GHD Best Operational Practice outlined below.

Lastly, good donorship starts with good partnership. Good practice by donors with commensurate good practice by partners is mutually dependent and reinforcing. To this end, GHD will continue to engage in close dialogue with operational partners on current and future work on best practice.

Funding Modalities

Timely, Predictable and Flexible Funding  Relevant GHD principles: 5, 12 

The GHD Initiative recognizes that timeliness and predictability of funding is a key means of improving humanitarian operations and ensures that they are carried out strategically and effectively and based on humanitarian principles.

  • The GHD recognizes as Good Practice that funding should be communicated and provided early in order for partners to minimize operational costs caused by uncertainty about possible future funding gaps. This can be done through regular consultations with partners, soft pledges or partnership agreements such as Memoranda of Understanding.
  • Where possible, i.e. especially in contexts of recurrent, chronic or protracted crises, the GHD Initiative recognizes as Good Practice that funds be granted for an appropriate time-frame of implementation including beyond the end of a financial year, or that funding instruments allow for multi-year planning with incremental funding.

GHD members expect project funds to be utilized as per timeframe entailed in agreements, while recognizing that humanitarian contexts can be unpredictable. With a view to ensuring appropriate flexibility of funding:

  • When program/project disbursements fall behind schedule for non-anticipated operational or security reasons, and when reasonable extensions to project end-dates are requested in a timely fashion, when the scope of work is unaltered, GHD recognizes as Best Practice the provision of no-cost extensions.
  • When modest and exceptional free balances occur after a project closes, the GHD Initiative recognizes as Best Practice exploring mutually acceptable alternatives to reimbursement before the end of the award period and in consultation with the implementing partner.
  • When volatile humanitarian contexts develop differently than anticipated at the inception and design of a project, GHD members consider ad-hoc and flexible project modifications, agreed between donors and project partners, a good practice, allowing partners in a humanitarian context to quickly adapt their programs as required. An even better practice is building flexibility into the award that allows for responsiveness to rapidly changing needs in volatile contexts.

Multi-Year Funding Modalities  Relevant GHD Principle 13

The GHD recognizes the value of longer-term funding arrangements when contexts merit and these being conducive to more predictable, transparent and strategic priority-setting and financial planning of partners. GHD members also acknowledge the potential reduction in transaction cost and lower administrative burden of project management of multi-year funding for partners and donors.

The GHD Initiative acknowledges the fact that many donor administrations are bound by annual budget cycles and may have legislation or structures in place that impede front-loaded, humanitarian multi-year funding arrangements. Nevertheless, the GHD Initiative recognizes the following as Operational Best Practice:

  • The provision of multi-year funding or planning instruments for operations of IO, Red Cross and Red Crescent, and NGO partners in recurrent, chronic or protracted crises via Memoranda of Understanding, Partnership Agreements, Commitment Appropriations, Contracts, Soft Pledges, Grants, Cooperative Agreements, and similar tools.
  • The support of strategic planning and programming of partners over time-frames of two or more years with agreed budgets that allow for incremental funding.
  • The set-up of multi-year planning frameworks and the development of multi-year programming strategies in collaboration with partners based on agreed understanding of needs.
  • The complementarity of humanitarian and development funding in these multi-year agreements ensuring humanitarian needs are met and the humanitarian caseload reduced.
  • Where donor budget procedures allow, donors could consider an appropriate volume of multi-year funding to the humanitarian budgets for recurring and protracted crises, including through:
    1. consideration of multi-year, un-earmarked core funding to partners with demonstrated sound internal vetting and prioritization procedures, in particular when donors are without regional representation
    2. consideration of multi-year project or program funding to specific crises
    3. consideration of multi-year funding to pooled funding mechanisms, including country-based pooled funds and the Central Emergency Response Fund.

Evidence-based Decision Making

Production of Evidence  Relevant GHD Principles: 6, 12, 15

In light of the existing wealth of knowledge and evidence available to guide GHD members' funding decisions, the GHD initiative recognizes the need to promote the use of existing knowledge and limit the parallel and redundant production of evidence. The GHD initiative recognizes as best practices:

  • The sharing of relevant evidence produced in the context of policy and programme development and evaluation, such as policy and funding guidelines, evaluations, and lessons learnt.
  • The use of, and contribution to, open, free and shared data to enable improved common prioritisation of programmes and actions, including the use of an index for shared risk analysis, such as the Index for Risk Management (INFORM), that gives a common basis on which to work together to be more effective at addressing disaster risk, building resilience and creating risk-informed programming.

Support in Decision-Making  Relevant GHD Principles: 6, 12, 15

The GHD initiative recognizes that basing funding allocations on evidence, together with clear processes and criteria, promotes quality programming and accountability.

  • The GHD recognizes as a best practice decision-making for funding allocations based on sound evidence.

The GHD initiative acknowledges that a common understanding among donors of what amounts to sound evidence for decision-making would strengthen joint prioritization and donor coordination.

  • GHD members recognize as a good practice the use of sound evidence that meets common donor criteria, such as evidence that reflects independent and rigorous prioritisation of needs across sectors; joint analysis and consensus among experts; a transparent methodology outlining key assumptions and uncertainties, and a robust knowledge base.

GHD donors recognize the importance of coordinated, objective and transparent needs assessment and shared analysis for response planning, such as the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP), for common prioritization and a more effective humanitarian response.

GHD recognizes as best practices:

  • Financial and advocacy support to partners to strengthen coordinated, objective and transparent needs assessment processes and the production of response plans, including multi-sector prioritization analysis.
  • Funding allocation decisions based on the Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) and the Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) to enhance the synergy between collective prioritization and donor funding decision-making.

Managing Risk

GHD members identify risk management as priority issue, particularly in view of the operational security challenges humanitarian agencies face in an increasing number of conflict settings. While decisionmaking tools, like Program Criticality Frameworks, are primarily the responsibility of individual agencies, GHD members recognize the need to promote and support Integrated Risk Management Best Practices to reduce risk, particularly in areas relating to staff safety and security. GHD members recognize that implementing partners perceive security risks and assess vulnerabilities individually, accept different levels of risk, and implement security arrangements which they consider suitable for their respective organizations and operational conditions.

GHD donors agree to support our operational partners in their endeavors to continuously improve on their management of risk, particularly of staff safety and operational security. To this end, GHD will include the following best practices.

Core Operational Best Practice for Risk Management: Consult with humanitarian partners as neutral, impartial, and independent humanitarian actors  Relevant GHD principles: 2, 17

Risk Management

  • Engage with humanitarian partners on areas related to risk management, including areas related to legal compliance and fiduciary risks, at headquarters and field levels.
  • Respect program criticality frameworks utilized by humanitarian agencies.
  • Increase understanding when partners determine that they must use remote management of humanitarian operations for insecure areas and/or use third-party monitoring, as appropriate, to support greater accountability to affected populations.

Safety and Security Policies

  • Urge partners embrace the concept of risk management and take a systematic approach to security management as well as have appropriate safety and security management policy and procedures that are context-specific at country- and project-levels.
  • Support the capacity building and strengthening of security protocols and practices of local and national humanitarian agencies.
  • Promote international partners’ “duty-of-care” regarding their local partners, including risk analysis support, while ensuring a commensurate level of accountability of all parties and providing security measures for local partners when risk is transferred to them.
  • Communicate to partners that under certain conditions and situations security costs for equipment, staff, training, and site security enhancements can be submitted in budgets to donors.
  • Through collective action, fund initiatives that build capacities on safety and security.
  • Further promote and support the UNDSS/NGO Saving Lives Together security collaboration framework.
  • Provide increased support for field-level NGO security management trainings initiatives and country-specific NGO security coordination platforms and mechanisms.

Administrative and Accountability Requirements

Administrative and Accountability Requirements Administrative Requirements Related to Flexibility  Relevant GHD Principles: 12, 13

The GHD Initiative recognizes that enhancing partner flexibility could offer greater scope for operational and institutional effectiveness and principled action.

  • When partners have clear and compelling priority-setting and allocation procedures, GHD recognizes as Best Practice the provision of funding that supports accountable operational flexibility, which may include non-earmarked or softly-earmarked support for multilateral partners and programmatic funding for NGOs, provided in the appropriate, minimum number of tranches.

Proposals and Reporting – Relevant GHD Principles: 7, 10, 12, 14, 15

The GHD principles recognize that a balance is needed between providing partners with flexibility and exercising donor accountability to ensure that partner operations are effective. The GHD Initiative acknowledges the request from partners that donors take steps to streamline administrative requirements so as to establish greater institutional and operational efficiencies. Furthermore, the GHD Initiative recognizes as Best Practice:

  • Conditional that they are strategic, holistic and prioritized, the use of appeals as the basis on which to make investment decisions, which includes both collective appeals like situation-specific Humanitarian Response Plans and Refugee Response Plans, as well as institution-specific emergency appeals.
  • The use of common indicators when a GHD member requires a tailored funding proposal, aligned with either the partner’s institutional indicators framework, the indicators framework of the Global Cluster, or with the country-level HRP/RRP/appeal indicators approach.
  • The use of universal, program-level reports prepared by multilateral partners at appropriate intervals, including both audited partner financial statements and annual/crisis-specific narrative results reporting.

GHD Initiative members are also encouraged to share and make use of contracting clauses that can serve as best practice in ensuring consistency with GHD principles in addressing beneficiary participation, support for country-level coordination structures, donor visibility, adherence to standards and commitment to promoting accountability, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Assessments and Oversight – Relevant GHD Principles: 21, 22

Partner effectiveness and efficiency are central for optimizing the impact of investments. The GHD Initiative acknowledges the request from partners that donors ensure greater coherence among their monitoring and assessment tools and processes.

  • The GHD Initiative recognizes as Best Practice donor alignment to assessments and oversight, while encouraging the sharing of assessment and oversight information among donors.
  • Best Practice for partner capacity assessments of NGOs includes the use of the principle of proportionality, with the complexity of requirements commensurate with the scale of award, and with transparency in assessment methodology, so as to encourage the development of collective approaches among donors.