The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in humanitarian action (ALNAP)

June 2007

The Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in humanitarian action is now just about 10 years old. The idea for it came out of the multi-donor evaluation of the international community’s response to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, where it was pointed out that mechanisms to support the improvement of humanitarian practice did not exist. So ALNAP was set up as a collective response by the humanitarian sector, dedicated to improving humanitarian performance through increased learning and accountability.

From the beginning it had a focus on evaluations, which are seen as a key tool both for being accountable and for learning. Evaluations of humanitarian programmes at that time were uncommon, and ALNAP has encouraged them. It has also systematised the way they should be done and what they should include. Now there are many more evaluations carried out, and their quality has been improving, even if not dramatically. ALNAP maintains a library of evaluations, the Evaluative Reports Database, that is mostly open-access. The effort to improve the quality will continue, but the network is now also turning to the question of how evaluations are used and their findings taken up. The ability of organisations to learn from the evaluations they undertake should not be seen as separate from other processes they are taking to improve their performance.

ALNAP is also engaged in some of the more innovative and less standard forms of evaluation, such as ‘real time’ evaluations and joint evaluations; both of these types are being increasingly experimented with in the humanitarian sector. In fact ALNAP hosted the secretariat of the Tsunami Evaluation Coalition over the last couple of years, as well as being a moving force in it. This was the first ‘system-wide’ joint evaluation since the one post-Rwanda.

The Review of Humanitarian Action, ALNAP’s annual publication, regularly reflects back to the humanitarian community its performance, through a synthesis of evaluations that have been carried out over the recent past. At times this has concentrated on particular emergencies, such as Darfur in 2005; at other times it looks across the whole spectrum of response during the period. This enables the network to use the evidence that exists in evaluations to make informed comment on the performance of the humanitarian sector in the last period. ALNAP hopes to be more forward-looking and monitor trends in coming years. The Review of Humanitarian Action also has had chapters on various issues of importance, such as monitoring (2003) and capacity building (2004). The last edition had a lead chapter on the ‘Utilisation of evaluation’. ALNAP has also taken a particular interest and published a book about the participation of crisis-affected people in humanitarian action and a Protection Guide.

ALNAP has always had a restricted membership to promote intimacy – there are currently 58 members – but they represent all the conventional stakeholders in humanitarian action: donors, UN, NGOs, Red Cross, academics and consultants. Within the membership all are treated equally and have an equal voice. This makes ALNAP a unique network and forum for collective thinking.

Members and some outsiders come together every 6 months at Biannual meetings, that have one day’s focus on a particular theme and a second day on organisational and members’ business.

ALNAP and ProVention have partnered on several recent projects, particularly to promote increased learning from past disaster response and recovery operations. After the South Asia Earthquake in Kashmir in 2005, ALNAP and ProVention published two lessons learned papers: one on lessons for relief and the other on lessons for recovery. In June 2007, ALNAP and ProVention are relasing a similar lessons learned paper which focuses on slow onset disasters, particularly drought, and food and livelihood insecurity.

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