Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Core Humanitarian Standard and why is it important?

All industries have standards to assure the quality of their work. As the humanitarian sector has grown in size and become increasingly professionalised, the number of standards in the sector has increased. Many standards have focused on ensuring that the needs of crisis-affected people, who are vulnerable and often voiceless in humanitarian assistance, drive humanitarian response. Currently, there are an estimated 70 local, regional and global standards that are applied in humanitarian response, leaving time-pressured aid workers struggling to meet sometimes contradictory demands.

The Core Humanitarian Standard outlines what good humanitarian action looks like for communities and people affected by crisis, and the staff and organisations involved in a response. The purpose of the CHS is to help organisations design, implement, assess, improve and recognise quality and accountability in assistance and programmes. It outlines the policies, processes, procedures and practices that an organisation needs in order to deliver quality assistance while at the same time being accountable to communities and people affected by crisis. 

The CHS has Nine Commitments, which together form a framework of quality and accountability good practice can be easily implemented by all humanitarian actors and in development programmes.

The CHS is structured as follows:

  • Nine Commitments to communities and people affected by crisis;
  • Supporting Quality Criteria;
  • Key Actions to be undertaken in order to fulfil the Commitments; and
  • Organisational Responsibilities to support the consistent and systematic implementation of the Key Actions throughout the organisation.

The Key Actions and Organisational Responsibilities, respectively, describe:

  • what staff engaged in humanitarian action should do to deliver high-quality programmes consistently and to be accountable to those they seek to assist; and
  • the policies, processes and systems organisations engaged in humanitarian action need to have in place to ensure their staff provide high-quality, accountable humanitarian assistance. 

Where can I view the Core Humanitarian Standard document?

The CHS can be downloaded in a number of different languages from The Standard page.

What other standards have informed the Core Humanitarian Standard?

The CHS draws upon a number of sources, including but not limited to:

Who approved the CHS and what organisations have endorsed it?

The CHS was approved in October 2014 by the CHS Technical Advisory Group, which comprised more than 60 members who represented a variety of humanitarian constituencies and technical expertise. In November 2014, the boards of HAP, People In Aid and the Sphere Project individually endorsed the CHS for their organisation or project use. 

All actors working in humanitarian assistance can publicly endorse the Principles and Commitments in the Standard through a public statement of support. This statement can outline how the organisation will promote and apply the CHS in its organisation and work. Statements of support received from organisations that have endorsed the CHS can be found at Statements of Support

Does the CHS sufficiently consider accountability to people affected by crisis, and benefit them?

The CHS helps communities and people affected by crisis in two ways. Firstly, it outlines what organisations need to do in order to be accountable, which will result in the assistance provided being more targeted, timely, and in line with what people need. Secondly, the CHS can be used by communities and people affected by crisis as a guideline for what to expect from those organisations committed to implementing the CHS. Through this, organisations can be held to account directly by the people they seek to serve.

The Joint Standards Initiative (JSI) called for the inclusion of affected populations in any new standards development process. This was taken into consideration at the planning stage of the CHS. The CHS consultation and testing phase included engagement with communities and people affected by crisis.

The CHS puts affected people and communities at the centre of humanitarian action and promotes respect for their fundamental rights. Additionally, the CHS is underpinned by the right to life with dignity, and the right to protection and security as set forth in international law.

The Commitments that are expressed in the CHS promote a number of practices that support greater accountability to people affected by crisis. The CHS emphasises accountability mechanisms including but not limited to:

  • needs and capacity assessments that improve the targeting of assistance, and influence the nature of interventions supported and the location of services provided;
  • the promotion of community participation and better information sharing; and
  • ensuring that people who have grievances can safely lodge a complaint and organisations engage a mechanism to redress wrongdoing.

Such mechanisms have been proved to strengthen trust between agencies and affected people and have highlighted the link between community participation and ownership and quality.

How will the CHS help improve programming?

The CHS outlines best practice in accountability in humanitarian contexts. By applying the CHS, agency staff will have a benchmark on how best to operate. Communities and people affected by crisis will know that they will get assistance that is best suited to their needs. Donors will be reassured that their funding is contributing to well-targeted and well-managed programmes, and governments will get a clearer idea of how humanitarian organisations plan to engage with communities in the countries in which these organisations operate.

As a measurable and verifiable standard, the CHS enables all parties to be clear about what is promised, what can be expected and what has been delivered and how.

Can the CHS hamper the agility of organisations in time of crisis?

In the JSI consultation, a concern was raised that standards could hamper the agility and flexibility of humanitarian organisations in times of crisis. There has been no evidence to date that any of the humanitarian standards, technical or organisational, have slowed down or hampered an organisation's humanitarian response. On the contrary, the implementation of good practices as identified in the CHS should favour more effective and accountable work of organisations in all the phases of their interventions. The JSI found that 99.8% of humanitarian actors interviewed supported having standards in the sector.

How does the CHS make the sector more coherent and effective?

The Core Humanitarian Standard helps to ensure that the range of humanitarian actors working in the sector work in coordination with one another, bringing greater coherence to work done in often chaotic crisis situations. The CHS puts the voices of communities and people affected by crisis at the heart of decision-making, which makes the response more targeted and effective.

It is anticipated that over time, the CHS will be recognised and used by the majority of humanitarian actors including national and donor governments and all operational agencies.

Applying the CHS supports better planning and allows an organisation to embed operational risk management practices into the organisation’s culture, enabling improved procedures to be put in place and management to make informed decisions about where to invest in risk mitigation techniques and improved controls. Such systems are promoted by the CHS, and many organisations have noted that better planning supports a more rapid response and deployment of staff to crisis-affected areas, not the contrary.

Will there be guidance to support application of the CHS?

Yes. Guidance is a critical part of the CHS process.  As the CHS is a verifiable standard, it is important that all humanitarian actors have a consistent and full understanding of the Standard and how it should be applied. Draft Guidance Notes and Indicators related to application of the CHS have been developed and can be download here. A two-month consultation process took place on the Guidance Notes and Indicators and the finalised version will be made available in coming months. The guidance details how to implement the standard in specific situations and reflects the combined experience of all actors involved in implementation.

All guidance, tools and resources related to the CHS will be developed, revised, promoted and disseminated in a collaborative, inclusive manner by Groupe URD, the CHS Alliance (formed by the merger of HAP and People In Aid) and the Sphere Project. Other actors in the humanitarian sector are welcome to adapt, disseminate and promote CHS resources according to their needs.

What indicators will be used to assess the level of application of the CHS?

A verification framework is being developed through an independent process, the implementation of which will be optional for organisations using the CHS. The latest version of the verification framework can be viewed here. The verification framework provides examples of mechanisms or actions that could demonstrate the application of the Key Actions and Organisational Responsibilities. At the same time, organisations can use their existing practices or mechanisms to demonstrate the application of the relevant elements of the CHS, which will allow organisations to adapt the verification framework to the size and nature of the organisation and operating context.

Tools are also being developed to assess and validate an organisation’s own internal quality control mechanisms, including monitoring and evaluation processes as an input to the CHS indicators. These tools can be used for both self and external verification.

Can we apply the CHS to development work?

Although it is primarily intended for the humanitarian sector, the CHS can also be used to bring better quality and greater accountability to development and advocacy work. An effort has been made to develop the CHS in such a way that it can also be used by dual or multi-mandated organisations. The commitments of the CHS and the related key actions reflect the key human rights principles of participation, accountability, transparency, and inclusion. As the CHS commitments promote quality and accountability they can be used by any organisation from the project and programme level up to the headquarters level.

What do you expect from me, the user?

We hope you will read the CHS and apply and implement those elements relevant to your work. Where organisational processes prevent you from being as accountable as you would like, or from delivering quality assistance, we hope you will encourage change within the organisation.

If your organisation decides to participate in external verification of the CHS, your employer many have additional expectations with regards to the way you work on the promotion and application of, and reporting on, the CHS.

What organisations should use the CHS?

The CHS should be used by organisations and individuals that:

  • deliver direct assistance to people and communities affected by crisis;
  • provide financial, material or technical support to other organisations, but do not directly take part in providing assistance; or
  • combine both these approaches.

The CHS can therefore be promoted and implemented by all who undertake humanitarian action, as well as those involved in development. They can include individuals, organisations, coordinating bodies, consortia and other groups undertaking or contributing to humanitarian action, such as: local, national and international NGOs, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, United Nations, donor agencies, national governments, the private sector, among others. It can also be promoted and implemented by collective humanitarian mechanisms such as the cluster system, humanitarian country teams, and pooled funding mechanisms.

How should organisations apply the CHS?

Organisations that decide to use the CHS should promote it both within their organisation and externally.

Organisations formally committing to the CHS aim on all occasions to fulfil all Nine Commitments. As a minimum, they are expected to work to continuously improve their systems, structures and practices in order to consistently improve the quality and accountability of their humanitarian responses. However, the organisations and individuals involved in humanitarian action are diverse. They need to act in a timely manner, and adapt their actions to the capacities and mandate of their organisations, as well as the phase and circumstance of the crisis they find themselves in.

In circumstances when organisations encounter difficulties fulfilling the Nine Commitments, they should acknowledge this and consider how to address in the future the issues preventing them from doing so.

Any analysis of the application of the CHS should be based on the degree to which any given organisation is working to achieve the Nine Commitments and not simply on whether key actions have been implemented and/or organisational responsibilities discharged.

How can organisations working with partners benefit from the CHS?

Many national and international NGOs and UN agencies work with partners. All operational organisations should apply the CHS in their work. Organisations working with partners should advocate for its use by their partners and encourage uptake in all aspects of humanitarian action. Partners should also be actively enabled and supported to apply, monitor and report on use of the CHS.

How can I provide feedback on the CHS?

The Core Humanitarian Standard was finalised after an extensive consultation period involving many hundreds of humanitarian actors from across the globe. Its development has followed internationally agreed good practice in developing multi-stakeholder standards and its maintenance will continue to do so.

The CHS will have a mechanism in place to receive constant feedback on the applicability of the standard and any challenges that organisations have in relation to implementation. Comments on the CHS are therefore welcome at any time, and can be sent, along with enquiries, to info@corehumanitarianstandard.org or through the Contact Us form on the CHS website.

When will the CHS be reviewed and revised?

The CHS will also undergo regular formal revisions in alignment with international good practice. The usual lifespan of a standard is five years and therefore the CHS will undergo a formal revision at the latest by the end of 2019. The exact timing of the revision will be determined by a Steering Committee, and executive body that will oversee the revisions of the CHS, to be established by Groupe URD, the CHS Alliance and the Sphere Project with responsibility for the revision process.

As the CHS is a new standard, in 2017 the CHS Steering Committee will review the feedback on the Standard received to date, and will assess whether the feedback and any concerns raised on the content or clauses of the CHS warrant a standards revision process. If a revision is not needed in 2017, the same evaluation will happen in 2018. If not deemed necessary at that time, the CHS will undergo a normal formal revision process in 2019.

In between revisions, significant comments or learning from practice may be addressed either by updating existing guidance on the CHS or by issuing specific guidance notes relevant to the topic in question. This allows for a faster and more flexible response to issues than only through formal revisions of the standard.

How can I participate in the review and revision process?

All users of the CHS will be actively invited to make their opinions known in the formal CHS consultation process. Similar to the approach taken during the development of the CHS, the revision process will result from a wide consultation process, during which technical committees made up of standards experts will be assembled. The CHS Steering Committee will determine the most appropriate revision process based on feedback received and in line with best practice.

As noted earlier, your feedback on the CHS can also be addressed in a much faster and more flexible way through its inclusion in the CHS guidance: it is expected that the guidance will be updated regularly and will be able to adapt to challenges and solutions of applying the CHS as such advice evolves. There will be a mechanism to feedback after the launch of the final version of the CHS Guidance Notes and Indicators.

Will certification against the CHS be mandatory?

No. The CHS remains a voluntary initiative and certification will not be mandatory. Certification, for those organisations interested in pursuing it, will be provided for by a stand-alone organisation against the verification framework and scheme. Find out more about verification and certification here.

What will be the status of the relevant HAP, People In Aid and Sphere standards?

In November 2014, the boards of HAP, People In Aid and the Sphere Project endorsed the CHS for use in their own organisations and projects.

HAP adopted the CHS in its Strategic Plan for 2014-2016 and in 2014 has already transitioned some of its services to the CHS. HAP and People In Aid had no active promotion of their respective Standards or Codes after January 2015. HAP and People In Aid, now as the CHS Alliance, will have a transition plan to the CHS for their members.

The Core Standards of the Sphere Handbook will remain in place until Guidance Notes and Indicators are finalised, at which point the CHS will replace the Core Standards. The Sphere Project will continue to engage with the CHS Steering Group to support good practice, including through CHS Guidance Notes and Indicators based on evidence and technical expertise.

Groupe URD has committed to integrate the CHS criteria within the Quality COMPAS. 

Resources for you
Resources for you

Download resources to support promotion and implementation of the CHS in your organisation.

The Core Humanitarian Standard, rooted in the needs and rights of the communities and people affected by crisis and founded in humanitarian principles, will inspire energy and action for improved quality and accountability.
Pauliina Parhiala, Director, ACT Alliance
CHS Alliance
Groupe URD
Sphere Project