The cluster approach was introduced as a means to strengthen predictability, response capacity, coordination and accountability by strengthening partnerships in key sectors of humanitarian response, and by formalising the lead role of particular agencies/organisations in each of these sectors. At the time of writing, the approach has been applied in eight chronic humanitarian crises and six suddenonset emergencies. The IASC, which initiated the cluster approach in December 2005, commissioned this evaluation to determine whether, two years later, the approach has led to any measurable improvements in the capacity, coverage and predictability of humanitarian response.
The evaluation encompassed field research for four of the cluster rollout countries (Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia and Uganda), as well as desk research on the sudden-onset emergencies. In all, over 400 stakeholders were interviewed, and an online survey yielded an additional 334 responses. These methods were used to seek evidence of specific contributions made by the cluster approach in the following areas: • identifying and filling gaps in programme areas and coverage; • strengthening overall capacity to respond and cutting response time;
• improving partnerships for humanitarian action, including with the host state;
• improving standards;
• integrating cross-cutting issues;
• improving needs assessment, prioritisation and strategic planning; and, above all,
• fostering predictable and accountable leadership in the field.
The evaluation found that, despite a troubled early rollout process that caused significant confusion and some lingering ill-will, there is evidence that the cluster approach has resulted in some systemic improvement in coordinated humanitarian response. Progress was uneven across country cases, and some clusters have performed better than others. In most cases improvements were driven solely by the clusters in the field, with little or no support from the global clusters, which had not yet completed or implemented the bulk of their capacity projects, due in part to late receipt of funding. There are weaknesses within the approach as it is currently defined, particularly in the crucial Provider of Last Resort (POLR) stipulation, and there is no disputing the additional workload it has generated. Overall, however, the weight of evidence points to the conclusion that the costs and drawbacks of the new approach are exceeded by its benefits for sector-wide programming, and the new approach has begun, slowly, to add value. The approach thus merits continuation and expansion.