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Studies find that shared cluster leadership between UN, NGOs, Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and other key humanitarian actors, including the IOM, generally produces positive benefits. The challenge though, is mutual understanding and defined accountabilities, including workload and financial.

While dependent on context, sharing leadership requires actors to define clear and well-understood leadership roles and responsibilities. An examination of the role to be shared and its accompanying responsibilities must be undertaken as part of joint terms of reference development, covering the complementary roles of the Cluster Lead Agencies, the Cluster Coordinators and the cluster participants. Leadership can also be shared across time with one Cluster Lead Agency handing over to another in a planned and agreed fashion.

Key considerations include:

  • Terms of reference or memoranda of understanding must be developed.
  • Actors should jointly determine the model that works best for their context.
  • Recognize that a shared leadership role may require full-time staff.
  • Shared leadership does not relieve the designated cluster lead agency of core responsibilities and accountabilities, including Provider of Last Resort.
  • Terms to describe shared leadership can vary but harmonization should be sought; seek guidance during the development of terms of reference.

For further consideration:

  • A goal of any response is for governments to uphold their responsibilities to the people, so shared leaders should assist with national capacity building.
  • Funding should not be a barrier to shared leadership. When possible the HC/HCT should help to mobilise funds and encourage donor support.
  • Share leadership itself is not enough. Cluster Lead Agency and its partners should ensure that qualified staff are placed in positions of leadership.
  • Training opportunities in the competency areas required to ensure success within a shared leadership structure must be provided to all relevant actors.
  • Decisions to share leadership should be based on an assessment of needs, capacities and willingness of actors on the ground.

The model used by the Emergency Shelter Cluster in natural disasters since 2006 is that of "phased leadership", whereby different agencies lead the cluster for different phases of the response (e.g. agencies like IFRC with expertise in emergencies and the required surge capacity mechanisms lead during the emergency and transitional phases, handing over to agencies such as UN-Habitat with developmental expertise to lead during the recovery phase).

Terms used to describe sharing leadership vary, with co-facilitator, co-coordinator, co-steward, co-lead, sub-cluster coordination, sub-national leadership, work group membership, task force chairs and secondment all used in different contexts. Global Cluster Lead Agencies and HCTs are encouraged to provide guidance on this during the development of terms of reference.