Perspectives [PART 2]: Unlocking the True Power of Partnership

6.Apr.2021
By JIPS

An expert in displacement data, partnership and collaboration are at the heart of JIPS’ work. Exploring this ethos in more detail, Part 1 of this series shone a light on the history and direct outputs of a unique three-way partnership between JIPS, Statistics Norway (SSB), and NORCAP. Launched in 2013, the last eight years have seen this collaboration grow from a series of short-term projects into a strategic global partnership that is helping to reshape the world of displacement data. With JIPS and SSB driving the systematic engagement of country-level statistical actors, as well as the development and mandate of the Expert Group on Refugee and Internally Displaced Persons Statistics (EGRIS) – the resume is impressive. Even more so, when you consider the extent to which these systems, processes and collaborations have anchored themselves in each of our respective business models.

“The last years, it’s become a more natural way of working, to include the national statistical offices. This wasn’t the case back in 2014. We were a gate-opener because we have contacts in many of these countries, and also when statisticians talk to other statisticians – I think it’s easier to find that common ground.”
– Vebjørn Aalandslid [SSB]

 

As we delve even deeper into this unique collaboration, Part 2 draws on the experience of the people involved – exploring the individual and organisational benefits that go beyond data and set this ground-breaking partnership as a model for the future.

 

People working together in front of their laptops.

Margharita Lundkvist-Houndoumadi (JIPS) and Marte Claussen (Statistics Norway) work with partners in Ukraine on data cleaning and preliminary analysis. June 2019. @ Marte Claussen

 

A personal partnership experience

From an 800-strong workforce at SSB, to a team of 12 in Geneva, to small, field missions in developing countries and crisis contexts, deployment is quite a transition. With new colleagues, a new sector, new cultures and partners, there is a lot to absorb in a short period of time. But not only that. Far from the established systems and methodological rigour of SSB, the reality of data collection in a politically charged, often protracted, and at times rapidly shifting situation can be daunting. If they exist, baseline statistics on internally displaced populations are sparse. With this comes a number of practical, methodological and operational challenges that must be taken into consideration. It would be easy to be overwhelmed. But as much as this situation has its difficulties, it also creates an opportunity for SSB experts to extend beyond the bounds of their traditional role and remit, and support the statistical process as a whole.

“It was rewarding to be able to follow through the whole process, from the very beginning. This differs a lot from my work in SSB, where my focus is on a specific area, and where the methodology, tools, and system around it are all set.”
– Marte Claussen [SSB]

 

It is people that make this possible. With every participant carefully selected by the NORCAP team, for JIPS and their partners on the ground, it is all about bringing in the right skills, expertise and traits to support individual projects and field missions, as well as the partnerships’ broader strategic aims. For those deployed from SSB, it is a unique opportunity to join a sector-leading, interagency actor that is pioneering and driving collaborative efforts on displacement data. It isn’t (just) about ‘seeing the world’. It is a chance to be part of something bigger. To experience the direct application of population data and learn more about the lives of those it represents. In short, it is a chance to make a real and tangible difference to the children, families and people who have had no choice but to flee their homes.

“It can be easy to think that getting the figures right is the most important thing. Learning from the humanitarian sector, you find that there are other priorities. Like saving lives.”
– Dag Roll-Hansen [SSB]

 

There is no time to dwell on difficulties. Right from the start, our teams have focussed on finding a similar language and using this as a foundation for change. It is an ethos that cuts right to the core of the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership and every person it involves. Find the point of synergy, and use this as a catalyst for action.

“In my mind, it is all about similarities. Yes, there are different challenges, but they are similar too. You take the tools you normally use and work flexibly – adapting skills and methodologies in a way that is sympathetic to the environment you’re in.”
– Dag Roll-Hansen [SSB]

 

From capacity building to capacity sharing

It all comes down to collaboration. A successful partnership is not about imposing practice or pursuing a single, independent agenda. It is about opening yourself up to new ways of working, creating a shared experience, and learning how to get the best from each other. Only then is it possible to find workable solutions where the dogmatic pursuit of traditional methodologies would have once rendered the project moot.

“I get very optimistic about what it is possible to achieve, even in difficult situations… It’s not a matter of if we do it, it’s about how we do it. We use the skills of the whole team to make the best of the situation. I love that idea.”
– Kari-Anne Lund [SSB]

 

We have seen the success of this approach first-hand. As our team experienced in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, not only did this collaborative process produce sound and agreed-upon data, it also facilitated shared ownership of the solution – in this instance between the Governorates of Erbil, Duhok and Sulaymaniyah, the UN and other development actors. This is absolutely critical. Recognising and utilising the skills of everyone involved, the process became less about capacity building and more about capacity sharing. We all have something to give and something to learn. Recognising this simple fact builds trust on every level, encourages engagement and unites people towards a common goal. It also enhances credibility, with cooperation between local and international stakeholders making the case for support even more powerful. The result is a set of quality data, the outputs of which are then readily endorsed and used by local authorities, civil society and UN agencies alike.

 

Changing mindsets and models

For those involved with the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership, the benefit is clear. But nowhere is it more evident than in the mindset of returning staff, some of whom have chosen to be redeployed with the programme – two, three and even four times!

“There are so many staff now that have been involved with the partnership. They bring something back to our organisation that is valuable. A different mindset, a different way of looking at things. This [also] makes Statistics Norway a more interesting place to work.”
– Vebjørn Aalandslid [SSB]

 

It starts with a commitment to capacity sharing, but is reflected in the way individuals approach and consider their work and the role of statistics more generally. Through the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership, experts are given the chance to be part of the whole statistical process in an environment where sound statistical figures are often scarce and challenging to generate. With this comes an opportunity for reflection. The chance to examine the processes that underpin statistical ‘truths’, challenge assumptions, recognise uncertainties and find new ways of working. Ways that balance methodological rigour with the practical reality of displacement situations.

“I’ve learned more about collaborating across technical sectors and cultures, and the challenges of data collection in displacement contexts. These are great experiences that I take home with me.”
– Marte Claussen [SSB]

 

This impact isn’t just felt by the individuals deployed through SSB. It ripples across each of the organisations involved. It is because of this learning (together with other external factors) that the SSB recently started to look into how to better capture Norway’s own forcibly displaced population for the very first time. The reality is that whilst the number of asylum seekers surged between 2015/16, they were not reflected in the official population count. This means that decision-makers do not have the full picture. But the situation is starting to change. Expanding on SSB’s and JIPS’ front-runner role in the EGRIS and the international recommendations on refugee and IDP statistics, the team are also making headway in applying them to their own organisational practice.

“It is through partnerships such as these that we have become more observant of our own statistics, of the definitions and categories we use. So for instance, we have started work on asylum seekers, and are looking at ways to better include them in our population statistics.”
– Vebjørn Aalandslid [SSB]

 

A catalyst for future growth

It is an important step forward, and an indicator of the indirect power and potential of the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP partnership. Inspired by their success so far, the team is already talking about expanding the model to include statistical offices across the Nordic region, establishing long-term, country-specific collaborations, and building on synergies in the area of capacity development of national statistical actors (if funds allow). Similarly, this unique collaboration has shown the team just how much need there is within the humanitarian and development sector, and how much untapped expertise lies within public and private organisations. It is a realisation that raises an important question:

“Can we apply this model to other areas? I would love to transplant the idea into sectors and specialisms that sit outside the normal sphere of humanitarian expertise.”
– Thomas Norman [NORCAP]

 

At present, such aspirations might be outside the scope of activity, but we know we have a model that is ripe for expansion. Paying more than just lip-service to the term ‘partnership’, not only has the JIPS-SSB-NORCAP programme delivered compelling outputs on the ground and in the area of global statistics – it has catalysed a process of individual and organisational learning. Of capacity sharing. In doing so, it has become a true collaboration. A model that is not only helping to reshape the world of displacement statistics, but that serves as a powerful illustration of that which can be achieved when we work together. In partnership.

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