Principles of Cluster partnership

Principles of Cluster partnership

These operating principles have been collated from both formal (i.e. IASC approved) and informal sources. They are based for the most part on the principles of partnership (PoP) agreed by the Global Humanitarian Platform in 2007, encompassing:

  • Complementarity
  • Responsibility
  • Equality
  • Transparency

For full Principles of Partnership, see:

The following principles could form the basis of a local ‘compact’ between all Cluster partners. If they are used in such a capacity, it might be useful to obtain signatures from the Country Director of each organization in the Cluster to this effect. Alternatively, just insert a bullet point into the ‘Strategic Operational Framework’ that says the principles outlined in Cluswterwise2 will be upheld.

  1. Any agency that contravenes these principles should be prepared to justify why they have done so to their peers.
  2. All stakeholders are eligible to be partners within the Cluster regardless of colour, creed or nationality. However, the Cluster, under the ‘good offices’ of the Cluster Coordinator, reserves the right to confer observer-only status (i.e the organization concerned may attend, but may not take a proactive part in, Cluster meetings).
  3. All Cluster partners are equal and have equal voice i.e the voice of the smallest will be heard.
  4. Clusters, however, are not equal. In sudden-onset disasters, critical life-saving Clusters (as decided by the HCT) may be allocated disproportionate resources in the initial phases of disaster response.
  5. Wherever possible, the role of Cluster Coordinator will be de-coupled from programme responsibilities at onset of disaster. Where this is not feasible and both roles are vested in a single person (so called, “double hatting”), it must be made clear to all members of the Cluster who (s)he is representing.
  6. CLAs at country level are responsible for coordination, but all Cluster partners share responsibility for the effectiveness and outcome of the emergency response.
  7. The technical representative for each respective sector (usually the Section Chief) represents the CLA within the Cluster, not the Cluster Coordinator. Where the Section Chief and the Cluster Coordinator is the same person, another person from the section should represent that agency’s programme.
  8. The Cluster Lead Agency cannot be held accountable for the actions of Cluster member organizations for which it has no contractual obligation. Similarly, reporting on Cluster achievements does not infer accountability on the part of the Cluster Lead Agency.
  9. Complementarity of different agencies’ comparative advantages is recognized.
  10. Information relevant for planning and monitoring is to be regularly shared with the Cluster coordination team in a timely manner through appropriate local mechanisms as agreed by the Cluster.
  11. Suitable separation from military operations and political oversight is to be maintained.
  12. If the CLA has limited capacity in some parts of the affected area, authority to act as Cluster Coordinator may be delegated to other agencies, including NGOs. Such an arrangement should be formally acknowledged in a ‘Letter of Understanding’ or similar. However, the designated CLA remains accountable to the RC/HC for the effectiveness of the overall sectoral response.
  13. Donors will take part in, but not exert undue influence in, setting the strategic direction of the Cluster.
  14. To the extent possible, donors will ensure that the activities of those they fund conform to the Cluster strategy. Donors must be prepared to explain to all Cluster partners the rationale for situations where this has not proved possible.
  15. Where inappropriate donations are received – according to criteria defined by respective TWiGs – the donor will bear all costs associated with transport, storage, handling, and eventual destruction.
  16. Partners will engage in a process that moves from coordination through cooperation to collaboration.
  17. Complementarity of different agencies’ comparative advantages, core competencies, and capacities are recognised.
  18. Heads of Cluster Lead Agencies are accountable to the beneficiaries they serve, to the Humanitarian Coordinator, and to their Regional Director. Cluster Coordinators are responsible for delivering on their IASC Terms of Reference on behalf of the Head of CLA.
  19. Individual agencies are expected to cooperate in adjusting their programmes to reflect strategic priorities agreed by the Cluster and the actions of others.
  20. The concept of ‘disaster risk reduction’ is embedded in the Cluster’s response strategy.
  21. Integrate with the strategic and operational approaches of other Clusters.
  22. As a minimum, adhere to SPHERE or government standards, whichever are the higher. Where adaptation to local realities is required, this will be decided by the SAG.
  23. Support cannot be given to ‘proscribed’ organizations.
  24. All Cluster communications should be in both languages (English and Bangla) wherever possible.
  25. Include beneficiaries in assessing and prioritizing their own needs, as well as programme design.
  26. Establish a complaints handling procedure that responds to the concerns of stakeholders, particularly beneficiaries.
  27. Provide all beneficiaries with information about programme activities that affect them in their own language.





Participating agencies support the designated Cluster Coordinator in fulfilling the Cluster mission, namely to:

  • support emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities;
  • work in partnership to prevent and reduce morbidity and mortality;
  • ensure evidence-based actions, gap-filling and prioritization; and
  • enhance accountable, predictable and effective emergency actions

In achieving this, participating agencies will seek wherever possible to engage in the following activities in close cooperation with other partners within the Cluster and with the Cluster Coordinator:

  • work with the Cluster coordinator and other designated partners to ensure appropriate distribution of sub-sectoral responsibilities within the Cluster, and agree to act as Focal Point in such areas on request of the Cluster coordinator if capacity allows.
  • participate in the establishment and maintenance of appropriate sectoral coordination mechanisms, including working groups at the national and, if necessary, local level.
  • provide information to the Cluster Information Manager in the format, and with the frequency requested by him/her.
  • identify core advocacy concerns, including resource requirements, and contribute to key messages for broader advocacy initiatives of the Cluster.
  • advocate for donors to fund participants to carry out priority activities in the sector concerned, while at the same time encouraging participants to mobilize resources for their activities through their usual channels.
  • support training of national and international staff of Cluster partner organizations, and promote transfer of skills to national partners.
This is is a section from Clusterwise 2. Reproduction is encouraged. It would be nice if the author, James Shepherd-Barron, and were acknowledged when doing so.

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