The period since the last MOPAN review of OCHA, published in 2017, has been a turbulent one in global humanitarian affairs. As a co-ordinating body, OCHA has faced both sharp rises in the scale and complexity of humanitarian needs and demands for complex reforms of the global humanitarian system. Despite the challenging context, OCHA has made considerable progress in articulating its strategic vision, based around its five core functions. Following a major organisational restructuring, its New Operating Model, introduced in 2018, has given it greater operational coherence, with clear alignment between its functions and structures. It has also improved its agility and responsiveness. This was well demonstrated in its early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, when OCHA moved quickly and effectively to co-ordinate the first COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan within a few weeks of the World Health Organization (WHO) announcing the pandemic. It also established an Organisational Development Unit to keep its systems and processes under review – a positive sign of an organisation on an improving trajectory.
However, not all of its reform objectives have been achieved. It has fallen short of its ambitions on decentralisation. While it has devolved some functions around procurement and budget execution, there is no clear overall trend towards decentralisation of either budgets or staffing. External partners remain concerned that understaffing in the field remains a constraint on OCHA’s effectiveness. The assessment also encountered concerns, both from within OCHA and from external partners, that decision making has become more top-down and less consultative. Despite the volatile external context, OCHA has not updated its 2018 Strategic Plan. Some important changes in strategic direction have been made without any formal strategic review process, including a new corporate priority on anticipatory action and changes to the objectives and functions of CERF, creating uncertainty and a lack of buy-in. For an organisation that works by promoting voluntary co-ordination, any breakdown in consensus is potentially a serious matter.
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