Here is a list of frequently asked questions. We hope they answer your's.
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About Topical Issues
Accountability to affected populations is an active commitment to use power responsibly by taking account of, giving account to, and being held to account by the people humanitarian organisations seek to assist (Inter-Agency Standing Committee).
The Core Humanitarian Standard (CHS) on Quality and Accountability serves as essential guideline and tool in the AAP framework of the IASC and its commitments.
The Grand Bargain is a unique agreement between some of the largest donors and humanitarian organisations who have committed to get more means into the hands of people in need and to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian action.
The Grand Bargain sets out 51 commitments distilled in 9 thematic workstreams and one cross-cutting commitment:
- Greater Transparency
- More support and funding tools for local and national responders
- Increase the use and coordination of cash-based programming
- Reduce duplication and management costs with periodic functional reviews
- Improve joint and impartial needs assessments
- A participation revolution: include people receiving aid in making the decisions which affect their lives
- & 8. Increase collaborative humanitarian multi-year planning and funding and reduce the earmarking of donor contributions
The official website and more information on each work stream can be found here.
The term used by the UN and NGO community to refer to measures taken to protect vulnerable people from sexual exploitation and abuse by their own staff and associated personnel.
The contexts humanitarian and development organisations work in bring them into contact with vulnerable people. As NGO workers, they have access to goods and services that put them in a position of power over the community. Unfortunately, a minority of people use this imbalance of power to exploit and abuse vulnerable members of the community.
The humanitarian and development community is committed to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse in their work.
What is the role of the CHS?
PSEA is a cross-cutting topic in the CHS commitments and its underlying indicators. Therefore, auditors use several indicators to assess an organisation's measures for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation, Abuse and Harassment.
A handbook for quick implementation of measures for protection from sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) in an organisation or project can be found on the website of the CHS Alliance.
About HQAI and its Partners
Accreditation is the “certification of the certifying body” by an official accreditation body, usually a government agency. This process ensures the HQAI complies with relevant auditing principles related to impartiality, competence, responsibility, openness, confidentiality and responsiveness to complaints.
HQAI received accreditation against ISO/IEC 17065:2012 in December 2018. The accreditation covers HQAI-operated certifications against the CHS and is renewed annually. HQAI operates within the CHS Alliance Verification Scheme.
It is a multistep process to become an auditor for HQAI. Auditors must demonstrate their qualification and experience in the sector (in auditing/certification and/or the humanitarian and development sector) in order to apply for training. If accepted, candidates participate in a training specific to HQAI that focuses on system auditing practices, the reference standard, etc.
The training provided by HQAI reviews a variety of different information and skills that are tailored specifically to conducting an audit for HQAI. Training focuses on how to generate objective conclusions, reporting requirements, and holds specific sessions conducted by HQAI registered auditors on their main challenges.
After completion of the HQAI training, candidates are required to take a final test that consists of a mock audit, which is evaluated against specific criteria. Only those who pass at a sufficient level are accepted to become a registered auditor for HQAI. Being registered as an auditor allows you to be enrolled in at least two consecutive audits under the supervision of a lead auditor.
If you wish to become an HQAI auditor, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CHS is a standard that was developed by the sector for the sector. It is the result of a global consultation process involving humanitarian workers, as well as communities and people affected by crisis. Three organisations hold the copyright on behalf of the humanitarian sector: CHS Alliance, Groupe URD, Sphere.
The CHS is a voluntary standard applied by many national and international organisations worldwide. They apply it directly and/or through tools like the Sphere Handbook and the Quality and Accountability COMPASS.
The CHS is verifiable: The CHS Verification Scheme, managed by the CHS Alliance, offers three verification options: self-assessment, independent verification and certification.
The short answer is "no, but…."
No more than a country can say that there is no criminal activity in its territory, there is no guarantee that an organisation can be completely and forever free of wrong-doing, be it corruption, sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment or else. The set-up and control of appropriate mechanisms, however, can minimise the risk that wrong-doing happens, identify an incident when it happens and take corrective actions (e.g. sanctions for perpetrators, assistance to victims and improving these mechanisms based on the learning from each case).
The Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability (CHS) provides a framework to put in place exactly these mechanisms. HQAI - as independent auditor against the CHS - can assure that audited organisations comply with the standard (in other words: that the mechanisms exist and function). HQAI auditing processes are robust and we are confident they provide a high level of assurance regarding the quality and accountability of our audited partners. Organisations certified by HQAI against the CHS can thus be trusted to minimise the instance of wrong-doing, handle wrong-doing responsibly and effectively should it happen, and learn from experience. Further, HQAI's processes include the possibility for any stakeholder to file a complaint with HQAI against an audited organisation for matters related to the audit.
Quality assurance is a systematic process to determine the extent to which an organisation applies an agreed set of requirements (also called a standard).
There are three types of quality assurance processes:
First-party – when the organisation undertakes a self-assessment, either through its own staff or consultants.
Second-party – when an organisation that is somehow related to the one that is assessed (e.g. a donor assessing one of its partners) undertakes the assessment.
Third-party or independent – when an independent party carries out the assessment (e.g. HQAI)
Third-party or independent quality assurance is generally considered the most robust means to generate a reliable, objective assessments of the extent to which a standard is applied. This is why it is used by thousands of organisations across sectors, not only to credibly demonstrate compliance with standards, but also as a tool for learning and continuous improvement.
To apply for a subsidy, an organisation must submit its candidacy file to the Subsidy Fund Management Committee, respecting deadlines given by HQAI.
To submit an application, please use the Application form on the Application process site.
A country programme is a country where the organisation implements its activities, operations, programmes and projects. When filling in the application form, the organisation declares the number of countries where it has programmes.
The number of country programmes is one important piece of information that allows HQAI auditors to identify the number of samples that need to be visited, which, in turn, is an important determinant in the cost of the audit.
Read more about the sampling process.
The organisation can choose to verify all of its mandates, or just part of it. For example, it has the autonomy to determine if it wants to verify its humanitarian mandate only, or extend the scope to development and advocacy. The choice of the mandates that need to be verified influences the selection of sampled programmes and projects.
The quality assurance team is here to support you in taking the decision.
"We are not in-and-out auditors, but we accompany the organisations over a period of four years" explains Birgit Spiewok, HQAI Senior auditor. The HQAI audit is not about a particular country, project or context. It has a very systematic approach which allows us to assess the organisation from a higher level and feed this information back to the organisation.
An audit is a systematic, independent and documented process used to obtain information on the application of a standard by an organisation, and evaluating it objectively to determine the extent to which the requirements of the standard are met (adapted from ISO 19011:2011, guidelines for auditing management systems).
The auditing of social and value-based standards requires the understanding of the context in which an organisation works. An audit identifies punctual strengths and weaknesses in the application of the standard. The emphasis is, however, not on this punctual compliance or non-compliance. They are indications whether the system of the organisation delivers the required performance systematically (systematically is the big word!). A systematic application of the standard allows for the organisation to repeat good practices and avoid perpetuating bad ones across the organisation.
The aim is to generate a comprehensive and objective analysis of the extent to which an organisation applies a standard.
The audit team collects evidence both on strengths and weaknesses during the audit, then analyses and reports on it. The audit report demonstrates the evidence on how the standard is applied within an organisation’s management system.
Transparency is one of HQAI's core values and the reason for publishing a summary of the audit report produced online. You can access the summary reports on the profiles of our audited partners.
The full audit report is confidential, but a summary is made public on our website. The summary informs generally about the strengths and weaknesses of the organisation in the application of the standard.
It is a requirement for certified organisations but also an important element of transparency for independently verified and benchmarked organisations. You can have a look at all published audit reports under the profile of each organisation: audited partners.
All our registered auditors are experienced professionals with solid backgrounds. Besides their own professional experience, HQAI’s specific requirements are:
- Demonstrated skills in management system auditing according to relevant ISO Standards. This needs to be corroborated by either a qualification in management system auditing in another sector or the successful completion of a dedicated training;
- Demonstrated knowledge of the CHS, normally requiring the successful completion of the CHS Alliance online course;
- The successful completion of HQAI’s specific training.
To maintain their registered status, auditors have to participate in at least two audits annually.
Senior auditors are auditors who have a significant practical experience in conducting audits for HQAI. At a minimum they must have taken part in two audits as registered auditors and be positively evaluated by both the senior auditors with whom they have worked and the partner organisations.
The aim is that the audit team includes skills and expertise that cover the scope of the audit as set in ISO Standards.
The breadth of topics covered by the CHS makes it unlikely to find this expertise in one individual only. An adequate combination of skills (thematic expertise, languages, geographical coverage, experience of particular organisational set-ups, etc) allows for a more efficient coverage of the different functions, contexts and ways of working of an organisation. The combination of skills of several persons helps minimise the information uncertainty and therefore improves the reliability of audit outcomes.
With the exception of maintenance audits, HQAI audit teams are composed of at least two auditors chosen for the complementarity of their skills and experience, trying to find compositions that minimise costs.
A non-conformity, or “non-fulfilment of a requirement” (ISO 9001:2005), is addressed in a certification audit report with a corrective action request (CAR).
In terms of the CHS, this refers to the non-fulfilment of an organisational responsibility or key action, as expressed in indicators related to one of the nine commitments of the CHS.
Non-conformities can have different consequences. Some may be life threatening while others can lead to inefficiencies in the organisation’s management system. Typically a non-conformity that has serious consequences and threatens the ability of the organisation to deliver a commitment of the CHS will be considered a Major non-conformity (score 0) and will lead to a major corrective action request (CAR).
Less dramatic non-conformities will usually be considered Minors (score 1). Nevertheless, an array of minor non-conformities that, individually, would not be serious, can indicate the existence of a Major non-conformity.
Non-conformities are resolved through short and long term corrective actions that ensure the issue is corrected and will not happen again. As far as relevant, the correction should address the non-conformity across the breadth of the organisation’s system, and not only the particular details described as evidence.
Corrective actions may be straightforward corrections of a mistake in the system, or require significant changes in the organisation’s management systems.
At the end of the period attributed to correct a non-conformity, the organisation has to demonstrate it has taken the necessary steps to correct the situation and minimise the risk of its recurrence.
In some cases, action has demonstrably been taken, but its effects may take longer to show. In such a case it is a judgement call of the auditor to determine whether the CAR can be closed or not.
The best practice to take appropriate corrective action is to look for the root cause of the non-conformity and to make sure that it has been addressed.
In order to resolve its non-conformities an organisation will need to work out a documented process and establish the steps that will be taken to:
- Review the problem and determine the cause(s) of the non-conformity (a cause analysis exercise can be very useful) – Ask: Who? What? When? How? Where? WHY? until arriving at the root cause of the problem;
- Propose an appropriate solution that will prevent the problem happening again, addressing the root cause(s) of the non-conformity;
- Decide on how the organisation will keep track and assess whether the actions taken were successful in preventing recurrence.
The organisation will need to keep track of the decision making and actions that were actually taken. Records of the corrective actions provide evidence that the problem was recognised, corrected, and proper controls installed to make sure that it does not happen again. The organisation should also record any changes in the documented procedures resulting from corrective actions.
Corrective actions should be completed within the timeframe given by the auditor. Implementation/completion of the corrective actions will be reviewed, at the latest, at the next on-site audit and can be closed by an auditor if she/he is satisfied the problem is not recurring.
A major non-conformity is automatically raised in the event of non-completion of the corrective actions in the given timeframes.
The CHS Verification Scheme offers three verification options: self-assessment, independent verification and certification. The latter two are conducted by an independent auditing body (HQAI). The CHS Verification Scheme comes with generic indicators, aimed at ensuring consistency between the options and between the operators within these options.
As a professional independent auditor HQAI has developed its own audit schemes under the umbrella of the CHS Verification Scheme. These are technical tools and operative methodologies that regulate HQAI’s audit services: certification, independent verification and benchmarking.
Costs largely depend on the sampling, which is determined based on the information provided in the application form. The sampling selection can be adapted as a result of the pre-audit self-assessment. (see more under FAQ "sampling").
For a detailed cost breakdown, please consult our Cost estimator under each service. Please note, however, that this cost estimation is indicative only, non-contractual and that the final cost must be determined by a tailored quote.
HQAI audits are not expensive for the amount of work that is involved. Rigour requires time. But HQAI does understand they represent a significant investment for audited partners.
HQAI’s independent audit services cover the management systems of an entire organisation, not only a single country or project. Audits review policies and procedures and interview staff and stakeholders from the Head Office of the organisations to a sample of its projects. For international organisations this means assessing the application of the CHS in different countries. In the process, a large volume of documents and all the practice of the organisation is reviewed and analysed.
In contrast to financial audits that mainly revise prepared statements and/or control a list of entries, HQAI’s audits revise management processes, practice, and the behaviour of staff. Auditors also offer a voice to vulnerable people and communities assessing whether they receive the CHS commitments. Travelling to these communities can be difficult.
In order to be able to deliver quality services, HQAI has to implement numerous activities that are not visible for the auditee but are nevertheless essential to the capacity to audit. This includes maintaining a sufficiently large pool of auditors to allow the flexibility needed in the aid sector, ongoing training of these auditors to ensure a consistent interpretation of the CHS, managing a complex legal system crossing several jurisdictions, ensuring the safety of the auditors, the staff of the organisation and the people they interview. Last but not least, HQAI ensures that its staff is always at the service of audited partners and whatever the workload, has the time to support its partners in their journey to independent verification or certification. To ensure the robustness of all these mechanisms, HQAI is itself accredited against the ISO/IEC 17065 standard that rules auditing and certification activities. None of this is cheap.
HQAI is committed to avoiding that cost be a barrier to accessing auditing services. This commitment translates into the existence of the Group scheme that allows significant economies of scale and the Subsidy Fund that can finance up to 90% of the audit costs.
Information collected by HQAI is confidential. E.g. information shared in interviews with the auditors are confidential and we make sure that no finding of the audit (information) can be traced back to any interviewee. The data can be used to provide consolidated information on one aspect or another of the reference standard, thus providing a useful source for learning for the sector, but under no circumstance is the individual data regarding an organisation shared without its consent.
However, ensuring a robust process also requires transparency. This is why a summary of the audit report is published on our website after the audit has been completed. We encourage our audited partners to do the same.
CHS Alliance self-assessment:
The CHS Verification Scheme offers three verification options: self-assessment, independent verification and certification. Under this scheme self-assessment is a self-standing verification option, conducted by the organisation undergoing self-assessment.
As part of HQAI independent audits (independent verification and certification), organisations are also requested to fill-in a self-assessment. While similar to the self-assessment above, it is not self-standing and a “lighter” version of the CHS Alliance’s (e.g. only desktop assessment at the head office, no field visits required for self-assessment). Good news for organisations that have already gone through a (recent) CHS Alliance self-assessment: the data is valid as the initial step of an HQAI audit without additional work.
Our objective with the self-assessment: The self-assessment allows for both the organisation and the auditor(s) to best possibly prepare for the audit and identify potential weaknesses at a very early stage. The process also promotes buy-in of the entire organisation in the audit process.
HQAI offers three types of independent quality assurance services: certification, independent verification and benchmarking. “Independent” means conducted by a third-party (us!) and implies that the findings and conclusions are more robust and objective.
Certification: the independent and objective assurance that an organisation or a group of organisations meet the requirements specified in the CHS, good practices or commitments.
Independent verification: an independent and objective assurance that one or a group of organisations are making demonstrated, continuous and measurable progress applying the CHS, good practices or commitments. The requirement is that the most serious weaknesses in the application of the standard are eliminated within a four-year-cycle.
Benchmarking: a one-time independent and objective diagnosis of the situation of one or a group of organisations with regard to the CHS, good practices or commitments. HQAI provides these services against the CHS, as well as against other standards, commitments and good practices.
Currently, HQAI focuses on providing services against the CHS. Over time, we will offer the same services against other standards, commitments and good practices for organisations that work with vulnerable and at-risk communities.
Sampling is a process by which a representative part of a “population" is selected for the purpose of determining characteristics of the whole population. Sampling takes place because it is neither practical nor cost effective to examine each individual item during an audit.
Just for the records: HQAI sampling procedures are in conformity with ISO standards.
Read here how this looks in practice.
(Please read FAQ "HQAI self-assessment vs CHS Alliance self-assessment")