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Balancing inclusion and decision-making

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to cluster management. Due to the varying size, scope and complexity of crises and cluster response, the choice of a management approach must be adapted to need and may change as the response evolves at the national and sub-national level.

In order to deliver on the 6 core cluster functions, it is important to balance the need for consultation on operational concepts with the need to provide leadership of a cluster in an emergency to ensure key decisions are taken by a manageable number of partners.
A well-managed cluster should be able to:

  • Monitor performance of the 6 core cluster functions with regard to developing programmes – which clearly contribute to the implementation of evidence-based strategic objectives – based on the identification of good field practices and agreed international benchmarks and standards.
  • Establish and maintain an appropriate humanitarian coordination mechanism.
  • Maintain flexibility within the cluster to respond to changes in the operating environment, evolving requirements, capacities and participation.
  • Effectively use and transfer information to, from and between cluster members and other stakeholders.
  • Interact with other clusters (including through inter-cluster coordination fora), humanitarian actors, government counterparts, and relevant authorities for operational planning, engagement and active contribution of operational partners.
  • Be accountable to the affected population through effective and inclusive consultative and feedback mechanisms.

Recent major emergencies have shown that a myriad of humanitarian actors, both large and small, appear on the scene and are eager to benefit from coordination mechanisms. Clusters become purely information sharing and not effective decision-making fora. Experience has provided a model for efficient cluster management and the required leadership through the creation of ‘Strategic Advisory Groups’ (SAGs). Chaired by the Cluster Coordinator, it is responsible for developing and adjusting the strategic framework, priorities and work plan for the cluster. Membership should not exceed 15 partners in large emergencies and should interact with the broader cluster membership to avoid feelings of exclusion through the Cluster Coordinator. If required, ‘Technical Working Groups’ (TWiGs or TWGs) can be tasked to, for example, agree on minimum standards, formulate technical practices, find solutions to local issues and advise the SAG accordingly. SAGs have been created by the Nutrition Cluster in South Sudan, the WASH Cluster in Somalia and the Protection Cluster in Pakistan.