Interactive Refugee Simulation Trains Diplomats to Monitor Humanitarian Assistance
By: Richmond Blake, Advisor for the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights and Matthew Wollmers, Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration.
Did anyone ask you to pay for the services you received at the health clinic,” a group of American diplomats asks a refugee, who fled the violence in Syria with her three children. “No,” she replies, “but the clinic is crowded, and they don’t have the medicine that my son needs.” The officers listen to the woman’s concern about the local clinic, run by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) with the support of donor governments, like the United States. Back at the UNHCR office, the American diplomats meet with the agency’s staff to report what they uncovered from their conversations with local beneficiaries about the short supply of medicine at the clinic, and they discuss a plan for improving the distribution of medical supplies.
The refugee in this story was an actor, and the meetings did not take place in Amman, but rather as part of a simulation exercise in Arlington, Virginia, where the State Department conducted a monitoring and evaluation training for 40 program officers and field-based refugee coordinators.
With more than 65 million forcibly displaced people worldwide — more than at any time since the end of the Second World War — American leadership in providing humanitarian assistance is essential for protecting vulnerable people fleeing violence and persecution. Charged with responding to this unprecedented global challenge, the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) is committed to the rigorous monitoring and evaluation of its assistance programs to prevent fraud, maximize cost-effectiveness, and spark innovation. Simply put, PRM sees monitoring and evaluation as key to stretching the U.S. government’s humanitarian resources as far as possible.
To prepare its officers for this important role, PRM coordinates an annual “Monitoring and Evaluation Workshop” at the Foreign Service Institute to train and equip staff to conduct proper oversight and accountability of humanitarian assistance. Officers receive a comprehensive training on a variety of humanitarian issues, including ensuring accountability to affected populations, protecting particularly vulnerable people, and collaborating with development and military counterparts.
The training then puts the course material into practice through a simulation exercise designed to model a typical monitoring and evaluation trip to the field. The exercise includes three phases. First, participants prepare for the trip, including by reviewing quarterly reports and financial statements from implementing partners to identify particular issues of interest or concern. They then select key interlocutors and sites to visit and prepare a list of targeted questions. During the second portion of the exercise, workshop participants “travel” to Amman, Jordan to visit six sites, including to a health clinic, apartment complex, UNHCR country office, and a refugee community center. At each of these sites, PRM staff serve as actors and respond to the participants’ questions about quality of services and other issues. Lastly, the participants use the information they collected throughout the site visits to practice summarizing and briefing senior State Department officials with recommendations to address performance gaps.
Designed to reflect the fast-paced, demanding nature of field visits, the simulation exercise helps the Department’s officers prepare for the challenges they will face while on monitoring and evaluation trips abroad. It also demonstrates the value that effective monitoring and evaluation can have on the efficacy of humanitarian assistance and on refugees’ lives, a core source of pride and motivation for PRM officers.