This is the ‘80:20 principle’ that stems from the observation that where a large number of factors contribute to a result, the majority (about 80 percent) of the result is due to the contributions of a minority (about 20 percent) of factors. Evaluations suggest, for example, that some 80 percent of the services delivered by a Cluster are generated by 20 percent of its members; 80 percent of the budget for non-food items is tied up in 20 percent of the items; and 80 percent of the challenges faced by a SAG are resolved by 20 percent of Cluster members. It is however a heuristic principle and not a ‘law’ which suggests that it does not always apply.



This is the concept in economics that says if one factor is increased while other factors are held constant, the resulting increase in output will level-off after some time and then decline despite the continuing input. In the humanitarian world, an example might be when the (marginal) cost of reaching an isolated village at the top of the mountain takes up so much time, money, and effort, that the gain in terms of improved health outcomes for the villagers is considered no longer worth it when compared to how many extra villages could be reached for the same effort and at the same cost in the valley. In everyday experience, this law is expressed as “the gain is not worth the pain.” It also implies that setting 80 percent of a ‘known’ indicator – not 100 percent – as the Cluster’s target is realistic.



This refers to the process of quantifying costs and benefits of a decision, program, or project over a defined period, and making a comparison with its alternatives in order to make a rational decision. For example, when considering its emergency shelter distribution plan for the earthquake response in Yogyakarta, Indonesia in 2006, IFRC had to decide whether to provide one tarpaulin for every affected family or two per family as suggested in the Cluster’s ‘strategic operational framework’ (SOF). Either half the affected people received adequate shelter materials or the entire affected population received half of what was needed. A second distribution would be required if opting for the latter, a decision which would more than double operational overheads.  Such decisions about how to prioritise the allocation of scarce resources are made every day by relief planners. This example also shows that, though employed mainly in financial analysis, a CBA is not limited to monetary considerations only; it often includes those environmental and social costs and benefits that can be reasonably quantified.



In humanitarian terms, this is an analysis and evaluation of a proposed project to determine if it is

  1. technically feasible with respect to the quality, quantity, and appropriateness of the technology available
  2. feasible within the allocated budget
  3. constrained by socio-cultural realities or physical access
  4. can be completed within the timeframe foreseen given known logistical constraints, and
  5. will confer the intended benefit on the target disaster-affected population.



This is the benefit or value of something that must be given up to acquire or achieve something else. Since every resource (land, money, time, human effort etc.) can be put to alternative uses, every action, choice, or decision has an associated ‘opportunity’ cost of another action not taken. In the health sector, for example, not conducting a polio vaccination catch-up campaign will allow the money saved to be used for supplying more bed nets instead, but there will be a cost years later in terms of death and disability (as measured by ‘disability adjusted life years’ — DALYs) for those who contracted polio as a result of not having been vaccinated when younger.



This refers to the increase or decrease in the total cost of a production from making, procuring, or distributing one additional unit of an item. It is computed in situations where breakeven point has been reached: the fixed costs have already been absorbed by the already produced items and only the direct (variable) costs have to be accounted for. Marginal costs are variable costs comprising labour and materials plus an estimated portion of fixed costs (such as administrative overheads and expenses). The concept of marginal cost is of critical importance where maximum efficiency in allocation of scarce resources is required – as is the case in humanitarian operations – as opposed to ‘effective’ allocation where life must be saved whatever the cost.



Accountability is a concept in ethics and governance often used synonymously with such concepts as responsibility and liability, and with the expectation of an individual being called to account. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position. It encompasses the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for consequences of actions taken or not taken. Only individuals, not organizations, can be held to account.



Equity is distinct from equality. Equality requires everyone to have the same resources. Equity requires everyone to have the opportunity to access the same resources. The goal of equity-based approaches is not to eliminate all differences, but to eliminate all unfair and avoidable circumstances that deprive those affected by disaster of their rights – including their right to improved humanitarian action, and therefore enhanced coordination.



Delegation (or deputation) is the assignment of authority and responsibility to another person (normally from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities. ‘Rule 101’ of management theory learned by all MBA students is that delegation of responsibility without the requisite level of authority is a recipe for disaster. It should be noted that the person who delegated the work, the CLA head in the case of Clusters, remains accountable for the outcome of the work – implementation of the TORs – delegated to the Cluster Coordinator. Delegation empowers the subordinate, the Cluster Coordinator in this example, to make decisions, i.e. it is a shift of decision-making authority from one organizational level to a lower one. Delegation, if properly done, is not abdication. The opposite of effective delegation is micromanagement, where a manager provides too much input, direction, and review of delegated work. In general, delegation is good and can save money and time, help in building skills, and motivate people. Poor delegation, on the other hand, causes frustration and confusion to all involved parties.



The October 2005 earthquake and the July-August 2010 floods in Pakistan demonstrated that years of development efforts can be wiped out more or less overnight by disasters. Moreover, it is the most vulnerable, those already with the least access to services and resources that bear the greatest impact of disasters. If DRR is not systematically integrated into plans, programmes and practices, this pattern is likely to continue with greater intensity and frequency due to increased exposure, poor development practices, environmental degradation and climate change. Disasters will thereby continue to seek out the most vulnerable, and ensure that they remain so!

Disasters are not only tragedies but also opportunities to do things differently and introduce good practice. Recovery efforts must avoid creating new risks and exacerbating existing ones. Recovery is an important opportunity to build back better and enhance the resilience towards future disasters.

The strategic and conceptual challenges are to 1) make a clear distinction between hazards and risk, 2) adopt a multi-hazard approach, 3) perceive disasters as failures of development, and 4) expand the emergency focus from preparedness and response to include prevention and mitigation.



Moral hazard occurs when a party insulated from risk behaves differently than it would behave if it were fully exposed to the risk. Moral hazard arises because an individual or institution does not take the full consequences and responsibilities of its actions, and therefore has a tendency to act less carefully than it otherwise would, leaving another party to hold some responsibility for the consequences of those actions. For example, a person with insurance against automobile theft may be less cautious about locking his or her car, because the negative consequences of vehicle theft are (partially) the responsibility of the insurance company.

Economists explain moral hazard as a special case of information asymmetry; a situation in which one party in a transaction has more information than another. In particular, moral hazard may occur if a party that is insulated from risk has more information about its actions and intentions than the party paying for the negative consequences of the risk. This could be the case, for example, if a Cluster partner wanted to avoid a particular problem area in the hope that the CLA would pick up the pieces under Provider of Last Resort (see PoLR definition).

Moral hazard also arises in a principal-agent problem, where one party, called an agent, acts on behalf of another party, called the principal. The agent usually has more information about his or her actions or intentions than the principal does, because the principal usually cannot completely monitor the agent. The agent may have an incentive to act inappropriately (from the viewpoint of the principal) if the interests of the agent and the principal are not aligned. This is not a Cluster-specific problem, but it does occur in normal sub-contracting arrangements.



There is much unnecessary anxiety expressed over this provision, partly because OCHA used language like “critical to humanitarian reform” at the inception of the Cluster Approach. Heads of CLAs in the field fear that this provision leaves them accountable for unfulfillable, open-ended commitments. They need not worry. For starters, the PoLR provision relates to the current crisis. It was never intended to include the omissions of past centuries of neglect. In other words, it covers the period until restitution of the situation pertaining at the onset of crisis – what lawyers call the “status quo ante”.

Where necessary, and depending on access, security and availability of funding, the Cluster Lead Agency, as provider of last resort, ensures the provision of services required to fill critical gaps identified by the Cluster. The CLA is responsible, with the Cluster, to identify critical gaps and issue an appeal for critical gaps to be filled and to work with the Humanitarian Coordinator and donors to mobilize the necessary resources for partners. Where there is inadequate access, the provider of last resort will still be expected to continue advocacy efforts and to explain the constraints to stakeholders. Critical gaps refer to any critical gap Approved by the Cluster. The CLA is responsible for supporting resource mobilization for partners who can fill those gaps, and advocating for access where relevant, but not for accepting funding itself for areas outside its mandate or business procedures.



Coordination is actually a sub-set and an outcome of good management practice; a concept not universally acknowledged in the world of international aid, even in the UN system where it tends to be an end in itself rather than a means to an end. It is therefore defined here as the management science of realising maximal allocative efficiencies where the contrary forces of inter-dependence and competition interact.

Clusters assume a ‘coordinating’ function that oscillates between facilitation and cooperation. Its role is to complement, and, where government is dysfunctional or non-existent, to supplement government capacity to lead and manage sectoral aspects of crisis; to act independently as ‘honest broker’ in advising all stakeholders of appropriate technical and managerial (best-) practices; and to facilitate consensual decision-making (including through enhanced information management systems).

What Clusters cannot do is coordinate in the hierarchical line-management sense. Firstly, it has no mandate with its peer non-governmental agencies to do so, which leaves them free to ‘cherry-pick’ what they want to do; and second, it is the government of the country concerned that must assume its responsibilities on behalf of its population.

We coordinate in an effort to reach common goals with no duplication and no gaps. We cooperate when we agree not to work at cross-purposes (by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus, for example), and have an intention to help each other as need arises. And we collaborate when we have an intended result in mind – something we all want to create. A more cynical way of translating this into plain English is to suggest that:

  • Coordination is free.
  • Cooperation costs $125 an hour.
  • Collaboration costs $350 an hour.



A situation where a society’s  resilience, and its ability to care and cope in the face of disaster has been fractured to the point where excess morbidity and/or mortality require additional external inputs for the continued survival of those most ‘at risk’ because local capacities have been overwhelmed.



Often carried out in imperfect conditions and in the presence of many ‘confounders’, assessment of humanitarian ‘need’ is often seen in empirical terms and using ‘northern’ logics. It should be more ‘holistic’, however. The ‘need’ or requirement for supplementary feeding, for example, goes beyond an estimation of the ‘nutritional deficit’ among a given ‘at-risk’ population which is deduced as part of a ‘medico-centric’ construct, to encompass qualitative as well as quantitative concepts of ‘hazard’, ‘risk’, ‘vulnerability’, and ‘resilience’.



This term is misused. For the UN system and most donors, ‘partners’ means ‘implementing partners’ in the sense that one party has contractual obligations to the other for a limited time. Not all agencies with health components in their aid programmes therefore qualify as ‘partners’. What they are, and must be, therefore, are ‘peer agencies’, all of whom should be seen as ‘potential’ partners. All humanitarian agencies have vested interests. Partnership, therefore, is the route by which these interests become complementary rather than competitive; constructive rather than destructive.



Is the antithesis of a ‘macho’, top-down management style based on hierarchical (often military) models comprising levels of authority, unity of command, line control, and staff function. It is instead based on a participatory approach where the representation is collective, rather than individual. This style of management does not imply dilution of responsibility or accountability, rather the transferring of authority to a network or partnership. These relationships may be ‘formalised’ using ‘Memoranda of Understanding’, or equivalent, but nevertheless remain fluid and dynamic.



A voluntary process by which (SAG) members agree to subject their programme proposals and technical guidelines to the scrutiny of all other ‘peer-group’ members (and those they represent)



According to ICRC, ‘transition’ is a period of indeterminate duration which constitutes the prolongation of an armed conflict where confrontation has ended or at least died down, generally following a ceasefire or peace agreement. Though this is often referred to as a post-conflict situation, it can equally be a conflict situation. For the World Bank, the ‘transitional period’ marks a distinct phase in a country’s linear progression to ‘development’ where democratisation is underpinned by macro-economic stabilisation. From the host government perspective, ‘transition’ marks that time where confidence is restored and capacities are built in order to organise the transfer of aid management from an external, foreign-led approach to a nationally-led one at a pace that satisfies the sensitivities of all partners. For humanitarian actors, ‘transition’ is that phase on the relief-to-development continuum where short-term life-saving measures are progressively superseded by moves to more sustainable longer-term rehabilitation, capacity-building, and development programmes. Of course, since the reality is more usually a series of dynamic, inter-connected, and sometimes reversing contiguua, almost any definition is possible.



An approach which is all-inclusive, both in terms of engaging the widest possible range of decision-makers, and in covering the widest possible set of variables focused on a given product outcome. Malaria control, for example, which is frequently limited to diagnosis, application of treatment protocols, residual spraying of insecticides, and distribution of bed-nets when it could, and should, include education in water management at household and agricultural level.



A sectoral approach which sees maximum synergistic effect between related sub-sectoral components. In health, for example, managing any given risk to a population’s health might, at any given moment in time, include aspects of nutrition, solid waste management, water quality control, education, agricultural diversity as well as medical interventions. In addition, social, cultural, and political implications require management. All of this will include myriad UN agencies, a range of non-governmental actors, more than one host-country Ministry, and multiple donors.



A decision-making strategy which attempts to meet criteria for adequacy, rather than identify an optimal solution. A satisficing strategy may often, in fact, be near optimal if the costs of the decision-making process itself, such as the cost of obtaining complete information, are considered in the outcome.
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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