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1. Security groups, networks and forums

There is no standard model for inter-agency security collaboration; mechanisms exist in many different forms. Mechanisms range from small groups of interested NGO security staff sharing security information informally via Skype or WhatsApp, to hosted or stand-alone structures which have dedicated staffing, enabling them to provide a broad range of security services to the NGO community including security information, analysis, technical assistance and training.  

Although collaboration mechanisms have diverse structures providing different services and activities, the majority can be categorised into one of five broad models:

  • Peer-to-Peer Security Groups
  • Interagency Security Networks
  • Security Consortiums or Partnerships
  • NGO-Managed Security Forums
  • NGO Security Platforms

While some mechanisms have been very successful in certain contexts, similar approaches tried elsewhere have been less effective. Therefore any mechanism will need to be adapted to the operational context, specific security needs of the NGOs on the ground, and available resources. The different security collaboration models are examined in the table below.

 Peer-to-Peer Security GroupInter-agency Security NetworkSecurity Consortium/ PartnershipNGO-managed Security ForumNGO Security Platform
KEY FEATURES
  • Informal/ad hoc group.
  • Often exist as virtual/online groups.
  • Individual security staff take the lead, initiating the group and hosting meetings.
  • Hosting responsibilities may change on a revolving basis.
  • Main activities include information sharing and periodic meetings.
  • Members share reports/information directly via email or online chat platforms.
  • Formal network with membership criteria & agreement.
  • Chair/co-chair elected to lead network. Chair/co-chair positions change periodically.
  • Activities include information sharing, regular meetings, thematic workshops, and training events.
  • Information shared directly by members or via network leads, enabling anonymised reporting.
  • Network may also represent NGO interests at various coordination fora or with UNDSS.
  • Full-time/part-time Security Advisor appointed to support NGOs involved.
  • Security Advisors have Terms of Reference (ToR). Recruited by host organisation.
  • Security Advisors’ time may be divided between NGOs and host organisation – eg 70% for NGOs & 30% for host.
  • Activities include security updates, technical security support and training.
  • NGOs influence ToR (via an advisory group) but management rests with host organisation.
  • Host organisation responsible for HR, and if funded, donor contracts.
  • Linked to wider coordination body or stand-alone security structure.
  • Managed/hosted by NGOs.
  • Steering committee oversees the initiative’s activities and services.
  • Full-time security staff provide support to forum members.
  • Security team may include other roles – Info Analyst, Training Officer.
  • Activities include facilitating meetings, providing security updates and regular reports, training, technical support, and crisis assistance.
  • Forums are usually capital-based, with travelling security staff. However, in some contexts the forum may have presence in specific areas.
  • Independent organisation with own staff.
  • Advisory Board established with in-country NGOs to ensure services meet the needs of NGOs.
  • Offer extensive menus of NGO security services including threat warnings /alerts, incident tracking, security reports, briefings and meetings, orientations, training, security reviews, and crisis assistance.
  • Information and services are limited to registered NGO partners.
  • Facilitate cooperation with UNDSS and other security actors – international military and local security forces.
  • Security staff presence at both national and sub-national levels.
FIELD EXAMPLES
  • Bangladesh INGO & Corporate Security Forum.
  • Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) Regional Security Forum.
  • Afghanistan INGO Safety & Security Group (Skype).
  • Colombia Grupo de información de seguridad.
  • El Salvador Grupo de Puntos focales de Seguridad.
  • Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region Humanitarian Safety & Security Forum.
  • East Africa Regional Security Forum.
  • Haiti Forum de Sécurité (FOSEC).
  • NGO Safety Advisor Program – South Sudan (DRC).
  • Safety and Security Advisory Group – Northern Iraq.
  • INGO Forum Myanmar – Safety Advisor.
  • Libya INGO Forum – Safety Advisor.
  • Ethiopia Humanitarian INGO Forum – NGO Safety Officer, Tigray.
  • South Sudan NGO Forum – Security Team.
  • Pakistan Humanitarian Forum – Safety Team.
  • INSO is the leading provider of country-level NGO security platforms. All previous NGO security platforms have been replaced by INSO platforms.
  • INSO platforms currently exist in Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, CAR, Chad, DRC, Iraq, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine.
PROS
  • Quick and easy to establish.
  • Limited commitment required from participating NGOs.
  • With small groups, often easier to establish a level of trust.
  • Fairly discrete mechanism, unlikely to face restrictions from authorities.
  • Slightly more control over members’ behaviour – agree to certain protocols.
  • Possibility of anonymising incident reports may prompt sharing of sensitive information.
  • Provides a platform to agree coordinated approach or to raise issues of concern.
  • Good for organisations with limited security capacity, no full-time security staff.
  • High trust levels/info sharing if Security Advisor seen as neutral.
  • Possibility to have security position funded by donors.
  • Opportunity to build capacity of partners and L/NNGOs through direct security support and training.
  • More neutral role, NGOs more likely to share information on incidents.
  • Feeling of ownership by NGOs, more committed to supporting initiatives.
  • Strong voice through coordination body to agree coordinated approach or to raise issues of concern.
  • Comprehensive range of services – free of charge.
  • Inclusive service, available to both INGOs and L/NNGOs
  • No administrative burden or financial risk for NGOs.
  • Consistency of services, regardless of staff turnover.
  • High levels of incident sharing – perceived as neutral body.
CONS
  • Short lifespan – difficult to maintain if key people leave.
  • Information is not verified.
  • Limited influence on members’ behaviour – more risk of info sharing breaches.
  • Often involves security staff from larger INGOs – excludes non-security staff or L/NNGOs.
  • Relies on larger NGOs with full-time security staff to instigate and take the lead.
  • Some NGOs may be unwilling to undertake chair roles.
  • Not all incidents will be shared with the network – depending on size, organisations involved.
  • Significant burden on host organisation.
  • Expectations of participating NGOs can be difficult to manage; conflicting demands sometimes occur.
  • High turnover of advisors leads to gaps in coverage.
  • Substantial funding needed to ensure staffing levels and long-term provision.
  • Due to higher profile, authorities may restrict certain activities or censor information.
  • NGOs have tendency to become passive – requires more effort to maintain engagement.
  • Exist mainly in high-risk operational contexts.
  • Often takes time to establish – support, funding, staffing, and registration.

A leading provider of country-level security platforms for NGOs is the International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO). INSO provides a wide range of free services to partner NGOs operating within high-risk settings, including the establishment of country-level and area-specific NGO security coordination platforms.

International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO)

  • INSO country-level security platforms provide a wide range of services depending on the security context and the specific needs of the NGO community, but in general services include incident alerts and tracking, analytical reports, crisis assistance, site security reviews, staff orientations and training.
  • INSO platforms are accessible to both INGOs and L/NNGOs, provided they are legally registered or constituted within the country where the platform is established, and they adhere to INSO’s Code of Conduct. INSO also assists NGOs in security coordination with the UN agencies under the Saving Lives Together Framework.
  • INSO platforms are usually established at the request of NGOs operating in the country. A group of NGOs may come together, or work through an existing NGO forum, and invite INSO to undertake a scoping mission to assess the feasibility of establishing a platform within the country. However, decisions to launch INSO platforms are also subject to the availability of funding and the ability of INSO to legally register within the country.
  • For all platforms, INSO establishes a voluntary Advisory Board which includes representatives from the in-country NGO community. The Advisory Board assists in determining the scope of services INSO will provide, and meets regularly to monitor the implementation of these services and INSO’s performance.