Tips for Cluster Coordinators







1 Contingency Planning
  • Convene a workshop and use an independent facilitator (half day on lessons learned; half day orientation to contingency planning; half day scenario planning; 1 day contingency planning)
2 Joint Needs Assessment
  • Have an initial disaster impact assessment, however ‘rough’, no later than day 7. This can use observation, anecdotal evidence, and experience.
  • Maintain dialogue with 2 or 3 of the larger NGOs
  • Conduct meta-analysis of assessments as they come in
3 Analysis of stakeholder capacity and competence
  • Use standard format (number of international and national staff, projected budget, case-load impacted, stocks available, technical competence (surge) … )
  • Identify the Information Management Focal Point within the partner organization
4 Manage large meetings
  • Don’t be afraid to use one of the early coordination meetings just to agree the process by which the members want the Cluster managed
  • Use microphones
  • At Hub level and below, provide simultaneous translation
  • Start meeting by reiterating groundrules (e.g 90 mins max; phones to silent; all can speak; who the Chairs are; and the intended outcome of the meeting)
  • Ask only new arrivals to introduce themselves
  • Attendance sheet should include details of those who already attended so they can just tick a box to show their presence
  • Prepare large agenda items beforehand and ‘prep’ one of the larger NGOs so that they can ‘lead’ the subject
  • Start with easy issues first
  • Don’t cover every issue in a single meeting
  • Appoint a ‘raporteur’ to summarise agreed ‘action points’ on a flipchart for summarising at the end
  • Self-evaluateregularly (e.g “how can we improve this ?”
  • Use show of hands to gauge consensus


5 Manage inter-Cluster meetings
  • Invite Government counterpart to co-chair (or, at least, attend)
  • Invite one International NGO and one National NGO to represent the entire non-governmental community
  • Cluster Heads only to sit at the table. ALL others (whether Heads of Agencies, Mentors, Technical Advisers, Information Managers etc) MUST sit behind
6 Identify key partners
  • Ask those who have been in-country for some time
7 Create and build partnerships
  • Consider delegating sub-national coordination to an international NGO partner
8 Establishment of valid and measurable indicators
  • Use Sphere as point of reference if your Cluster Lead has not already developed a long-list
9 Create Cluster workplan
  • Use checklist and see examples annexed
10 Feasible Work-Plans within timelines foreseen
  • Allocation of ‘Case Managers’ with appropriate delegated authority per agreed area of work
11 Inter-sectoral planning and incorporation of cross-cutting issues (e.g gender-based violence, mental health, HIV-AIDS, environment)
  • Advocate for co-location of Cluster Heads, Information Managers, and providers of Common Services (e.g HIC)
12 Disbursement of pooled funds
  • Clarify funding criteria (e.g capacity, core competence, prior presence, needs un-met, engagement with Cluster); convene a committee (perhaps SAG) to objectively assess proposals
13 Coherence of policies and approaches
  • Establish SAG to draft Strategic Operational Framework
14 Thematic and Geographic gap analyses
  • Proactively engage Cluster partners and seek their information
15 Engage partners
  • Conduct one-to-one meetings outside formal meetings
  • Provide translation services
  • Allocate TWIG responsibilities as required
  • Consider NGO co-chair
16 Engage Government (the top priority)
  • Carefully brief your government co-chair before any Cluster coordination meeting (probably in a separate pre-meeting)
  • Be available 24/7; be prepared to write his/her presentations
17 Minimal standards are defined and applied
  • Delegate this to the relevant Technical Working Group (TWIG) Focal Point
  • SAG must agree Terms of Reference for each TWIG
18 Establish information management mechanisms
  • Establish a googlegroup, e-mail addresses and a dedicated web-site as soon as possible
  • Keep the most current document clearly visible with all historical documents in sub-folders in chronological order
  • Designate a dedicated website content manager and up-date daily
19 Operational responsibilities clearly defined, with authority correctly devolved
  • Establish clear lines of reporting and communication through agreeing ‘People and Process TORs’ (through SAG)
  • Agree the Cluster organigram
20 Conduct joint (real-time) evaluation
  • Use generic Cluster performance management systems
21 SitReps
  • Use template
  • Summarise key points
  • Include analysis at the beginning
22 Measure impact
  • Use coverage and access data, not just output measures of units distributed. Link these to improvements in excess mortality and morbidity data later (as well as satisfaction, livelihoods, rights etc).
23 Baseline (denominator) data
  • Gather data from all Cluster partners and use the median as the denominator. The range is also useful as it indicates relative reliability
24 Increase efficiency
  • Establish a Cluster Secretariat
  • consider co-location, particularly of common services
  • Appoint a dedicated minute-taker
25 Too many meetings ?
  • Hold regular conference calls for information-sharing instead
26 Unproductive meetings
  • Coordination meetings should be conducted within common premises if possible, with a large enough table, enough chairs, air conditioning, tele-conference facilities (power-point projection equipment, laptop computer, and tele-conference phone plus their remote mute switches), safe access, and where coffee/tea is available.
27 Increase personal efficiency
  • Hire a local secretary or intern to
  • Make administrative arrangements for meetings
  • Administer the Cluster Coordination team
  • Make provision for drafting and posting meeting notes (on the web-site)
  • Ensure proactive data collection and collation (by establishing, and then tracking changes to who is doing what, where, when)
  • Do electronic filing
  • Monitor the document drafting process
  • Up-date contact information
  • Manage googlegroups
  • De-duplicate meetings, and
  • Offer translation services
28 Manage web-based information
  • Establish an informal network of information managers across all related Clusters (and IOM, UNJLC, WFP VAM, UN-Habitat if necessary) and link with the OCHA Humanitarian Information Centre (HIC) as soon as possible
  • Design an inter-active web portal and ensure its compatibility with the main Government and/or UN site. The ‘Pakistan Floods Information Centre’ (PFIC) site established by IASCI at the request of the Heads of Clusters is a good example of this (, as is the WASH Cluster page for the Bangladesh Cyclone Sidr response (
29 Establish independence
  • In crises, the Cluster Coordinator is accepted as an independent, neutral and impartial ‘honest broker’ by default. This means that the Cluster Coordinator may be called upon to advocate against its habitual government partner on technical or policy issues where the Cluster and government disagree.
  • While humanitarian actions independent of government must not be ‘controlled’, they should nevertheless be consistent and coherent within the generally-agreed context of prioritised needs, standards (protocols, guidelines etc), and strategic frameworks as laid out under the Cluster ‘Strategic Operational Framework’. As ‘honest broker’, the Cluster Coordinator should be expected to arbitrate any dispute among partners at the local level, reverting to HQs only when absolutely necessary.


30 Ensure potential Cluster partners know how to join the Cluster
  • The legitimacy of the Cluster is derived from its partners: The more engaged they are, the more credible the Cluster. Put up a poster at crucial meeting points giving the names and contact details of the Cluster coordination team. Add the website address. And make sure it is in the local language. An example used in the Yogyakarta earthquake response can be found in the annexes.


31 Make personal one-to-one contact with stakeholders
  • Partners within in a Cluster are usually quite bad at providing the information needed to make coordination effective. Partly, this is because they are simply too busy – although there are other reasons, which are discussed in the Section on ‘barriers to cooperation’. This means that the Cluster Coordinator and Information Manager must initiate and maintain contact with partners. This means regular phone calls and visits, initially to introduce the project and invite the individual’s participation. In time, the partner should share his/her interest and role in the project and ask the person contacted about his/her thoughts on the problem/issue that the collaboration is addressing.
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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