Putting people first: understanding their needs to go beyond the top-down approach to accountability

21 July 2022

This blog was originally published on REACH website


Six years after commitments were made to put ‘people at the centre’ of humanitarian action, the assistance given to people in crisis is not always what they want or need. Despite the ambitions, in practice there has been a consistent lack of practical and holistic understanding of the priorities of affected communities to adapt approaches based on their feedback so that this, rather than agencies’ mandates, drives decision-making. 

In 2021, REACH conducted Multi Sector Needs Assessments (MSNAs) across 17 crises globally to inform humanitarian response actors on the needs of affected people. All 2021 MSNAs included questions related to Accountability to Affected People (AAP). These questions allowed to explore household’s satisfaction with the assistance available to them, the conduct of humanitarian actors, and the way humanitarian actors communicate with them and take their views into account. While methodologies, indicators and populations of interest of MSNAs are context-specific, a number of comparable indicators were included across multiple MSNAs, allowing to draw global key findings.

REACH MSNAs found persisting dissatisfaction with humanitarian assistance among recipients of aid in several contexts, including high levels of dissatisfaction in a number of protracted crisis contexts such as South Sudan, Mali and the occupied Palestinian territories. When asked to cite primary reasons for dissatisfaction with humanitarian assistance, households were generally more likely to point toward the inadequate quantity of assistance available, followed by issues with quality of aid, and delays.

Beyond dissatisfaction with assistance received among those that had been able to access assistance, multiple MSNAs explored community perceptions of the general conduct of humanitarian actors in areas where they work. In the Central African Republic, Somalia and Niger, for example, nearly half of assessed HHs reported having grievances regarding the way that aid actors behave in their areas, suggesting that more work needs to be done to improve the acceptability of humanitarian actors and humanitarian interventions in crisis-affected contexts. 

Moreover, challenges in terms of communication with affected people appear to continue to pervade humanitarian action in spite of major efforts by aid actors in recent years to diversify communication channels and streamline complaints and feedback mechanisms. In several crises, MSNAs show that the majority of HHs do not feel sufficiently consulted by humanitarian actors, including in the Central African Republic (78% of HHs) and in Niger (62% of HHs). In other contexts such as Bangladesh, HHs more frequently reported feeling consulted, yet more qualitative pieces of research on this topic indicate that while consultation mechanisms may be in place, and in spite of high investment in that regard in the Bangladesh context, affected people still feel like humanitarian actors are not sufficiently taking feedback into account. 

In 2022, REACH will conduct MSNAs in around 20 contexts, and most assessments will include AAP questions. REACH has worked to standardize indicators across countries as much as feasible in order to allow for more in depth analysis of findings, in addition to having a qualitative add-on to MSNA surveys in several countries. Updated finding will be available by the end of 2022. 

Learn more by accessing our global key findings here.