The 2018 version of the Sphere Handbook will have a revised and expanded introduction section, and this consultancy was a process designed to produce a first draft of that text.
Some of the drivers for the revision as a whole needed to find expression within the introduction: the increase in urban disasters; the increased use of cash; the fact that people were finding applications for Sphere throughout the whole (so-called) programme cycle; and most fundamentally, an improved understanding of the importance of contextualisation to apply Sphere appropriately in each unique situation.
The challenge was to write an introduction to the use of Sphere in humanitarian action, as opposed to an introduction to humanitarian action in general. But the huge scope of the topic and the limited space available made this a surprisingly difficult piece to write. Extensive consultations took place with a number of thematic leads, and many expectations needed to be managed along the way.
New diagrams were included to explain the structure of the Handbook – which now includes the Core Humanitarian Standards, and importantly to illustrate the process by which Standards can be understood and applied in an operational setting – be that rural or urban; preparedness, response or recovery.
Where universal topics such as needs-assessment had previously found expression in some – but not all – of the technical Minimum Standards, these were now given space in the introduction – stressing the value of integrated approaches.
Likewise, attention was paid to a full range of approaches: providing goods and services directly; providing cash for people to access goods and services themselves; and market-based interventions to remove barriers to their access.
Finally, considerable more space was provided to describe a range of essential lenses – replacing the old ‘cross-cutting themes’ through which programming should be viewed to ensure that quality is prioritised.
The first draft was in some ways a straw man – set up to be knocked down and edited through the revision process. That process has already begun, and the resulting Introduction promises to be a useful component of the future Handbook.