Peer review - a way for the humanitarian sector to learn and improve
Julien Carlier & Hugues Maury
The launch of the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) quality and accountability reference framework raises the question of its implementation. This initiative will bring nothing new to the humanitarian sector if it is unable to encourage a sustainable change in practices within organizations. In other sectors, peer review has shown its ability to stimulate innovation and lead to the emergence of good practice by comparing different approaches. Applied to the humanitarian sector, this alternative to standards has a great deal of potential to begin a process of collective learning and reflection which would benefit all humanitarian organizations, whether small or large, old or new, well-known or unknown, from the global south or the global north.
The humanitarian community has a new Quality and Accountability reference framework: the Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS), which was presented in Copenhagen in December. After a broad participatory process which lasted more than a year, the majority of humanitarian organizations felt that this was a significant step towards a shared vision of quality in the sector. However, this new tool will do nothing to improve quality if it is not used correctly.
The humanitarian sector is not lacking in tools, guides or recommended practices on all kinds of subjects. In September 2014, the participants at a workshop during Groupe URD’s Autumn School on Humanitarian Aid  listed no fewer than 150 reference tools for humanitarian workers… Beyond this profusion of tools that are available is the issue of how well they are used on a day to day basis. Even though the CHS is a mix of key elements from 7 well-established initiatives  and will soon be accompanied by indicators and guidance notes, it remains vital to support and stimulate changes in practices within NGOs.
One of the fundamental principles of this new standard is that it is non-prescriptive; it is therefore up to each organisation or group of organizations to take inspiration from it and adapt it to their practices on a voluntary basis. This freedom of choice makes it possible to innovate and decide what form to give the quality approach. For a number of months, Groupe URD has been looking into an implementation model for the CHS based on peer review  and learning between peers based on a voluntary labelling process. There are a number of successful initiatives of this kind in other sectors: for example, between OECD DAC members for the review of bilateral development cooperation systems; between health professionals for the accreditation of hospitals; and within the publishing committees of scientific reviews. This article looks at how a system of this kind could influence the diverse and complex humanitarian sector.
 The Code of Conduct for The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief; The 2010 HAP Standard in Accountability and Quality Management; The People In Aid Code of Good Practice in the Management and Support of Aid Personnel; The Sphere Handbook Core Standards and the Humanitarian Charter; The Quality COMPAS; The Inter-Agency Standing Committee Commitments on Accountability to Affected People/Populations (CAAPs); and The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Criteria for Evaluating Development and Humanitarian Assistance