Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Why Standards Matter in Humanitarian Response

30 August 2015

by the INEE Working Group on Minimum Standards and Network Tools

As humanitarian programs expanded globally in the 1990s, there was a growing recognition of the need to improve professional standards, to enhance the effectiveness of interventions, and to ensure accountability within the humanitarian system as a whole. In response, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief established a Code of Conduct in 1994 as a voluntary set of standards for humanitarian workers. Just three years later, the Sphere Project was established to create more comprehensive set of standards, underpinned by the rights-based approach set out in the Humanitarian Charter, in an effort to improve quality and hold humanitarian actors accountable.

The first edition of the Sphere Project’s Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response was launched in 2000. The Handbook articulates minimum standards for humanitarian response related to water supply, sanitation and hygiene promotion; food security and nutrition; shelter, settlement and non-food items; and health action.

Given the critical need to increase access to quality, safe and relevant education in crisis and recovery, the education and humanitarian communities came together in 2004 to develop the INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery to "enhance the quality of educational preparedness, response and recovery, increase access to safe and relevant learning opportunities and ensure accountability in providing these services." The formalization of the Sphere-INEE Companionship Agreement in 2008 is a key achievement for humanitarian action as it formally recognizes the importance of education as a humanitarian response. The INEE Minimum Standards have since been translated into 22 languages and have been used in over 180 countries as a key tool for advocacy, training and capacity development, coordination, program planning and response and research.  

The following points articulate why standards matter in humanitarian response:

  • Standards enhance the quality and accountability of humanitarian and development action. Minimum standards raise the level of quality expected, and promote accountability in providing humanitarian services. The INEE Minimum Standards (INEE MS) reflect international humanitarian and human rights law and can be used as an actionable tool for practitioners and policy makers involved in planning, managing, implementing, or evaluating a humanitarian response. One of the main goals of the INEE MS Handbook is to enhance the quality and accountability of educational preparedness, response, and recovery.
  • Standards ensure that even in difficult contexts, human rights are not overlooked and human dignity can be preserved for those in crises and recovery. The INEE MS focuses on meeting the educational rights and needs of people affected by disaster through processes that assert their dignity and right to education.
  • Standards can be used to build capacity and set targets. The INEE MS have contributed to increased organizational capacity to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover from emergencies, and have been used as a key component to capacity development. The 2012 INEE MS Assessment has shown that the standards have been widely used as a training and capacity development tool at local, national and global levels.  
  • Standards promote coordination. When there are many organizations working in the field, tasks may overlap or gaps mayoccur. Standards help to organize what needs to be done, so the job of determining who needs to do what is more easily accomplished.  Standards get all organizations on the same page regarding established legal rights and obligations and of shared beliefs and commitments of humanitarian agencies, all collected in a set of common principles, rights and duties. One of the main goals of the INEE MS is to enhance coordination in the provision of education in emergencies through to recovery. The Education Cluster regularly uses the INEE MS as a tool for coordinating the education response to emergencies.
  • Standards support disaster preparedness and mitigation. When standards are familiar to humanitarian actors ahead of time, steps can be taken to mitigate and/or prepare better for a disaster. Preparedness was cited by 35% of respondents as the stage at which the INEE MS are most often used, according to the 2012 INEE MS Assessment.
  • Standards are a powerful tool for advocacy.  Advocacy is one of the most common ways in which the INEE MS as used. More specifically, the INEE MS have been used to inform advocacy messaging and to structure and to lend legitimacy to advocacy efforts with government and other actors.
  • Standards inform the development of fundraising proposals. Service delivery NGOs and UN agencies working on Education in Emergencies regularly structure proposals around the INEE MS and use guidance from the INEE MS to generate project ideas. Moreover, donors and funding agencies oftentimes use the INEE MS as a lens to evaluate funding proposals and to make decisions on what proposals get funded.
  • Developing Standards is necessarily a consultative process. This process is important in creating a global framework and network for quality and accountability in humanitarian response. INEE facilitated a highly consultative process that engaged national authorities, practitioners, policy-makers, academics and other educators around the world in the development and update of the INEE MS. This process facilitated a widespread sense of ownership of the standards, making them more likely to be used, as well as taking advantage of the variety of knowledge and skills available.  
  • Standards allow colleagues and partners to speak the same language. This facilitates better coordination, program design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Feedback from INEE members and partners over the past 10 years shows that the INEE MS are appreciated greatly for giving the colleagues at HQ and field level a common reference and language that facilitates mutual work and collaboration on programming, advocacy and policy-making around education in emergencies.
  • Standards can develop and enhance the professionalization of a humanitarian field. The INEE MS have done exactly this for the field of Education in Emergencies. Employers now require familiarity and the ability to apply the INEE MS in hiring new education staff. The Standards are often used in conducting staff performance reviews. 
  • Standards are a measurement of quality of the program design and implementation. Standards facilitate the monitoring and evaluation of programs. Standards also facilitate the design and implementation of assessments. The INEE MS Assessment Report shows a number of examples of the use of the INEE MS for monitoring, evaluation and assessments.

Did we miss any reasons why Humanitarian Standards matter? Why do Standards matter in your work?


The INEE Working Group on Minimum Standards and Network Tools is an inter-agency group of education practitioners, policymakers and academics from around the world that work together to enable quality, safe and relevant education for all in crisis, crisis-prone and development contexts. To learn more about the Working Group, click here. To apply to join the new 2015-2017 Working Group by September 8th 2015, click here

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