Humanitarian Health Action

Global Health Cluster Guide

Provisional version – June 2009

Glossary of key terms (and concepts)


The detailed, methodical examination of constituent elements, structure and inter-relationships. [Adapted from Oxford English Dictionary]


The set of activities necessary to understand a given situation, entails the collection, up-dating and analysis of data pertaining to the population of concern (needs, capacities, resources, etc.), as well as the state of infrastructure and general socio-economic conditions in a given location/area. [UNHCR]

A structured process of collecting and analysing data to measure the impact of the crisis, and provide an understanding of the situation and any related threats, in order to determine whether a response is required and, if so, the nature of that response. An assessment is a time-bound exercise that produces a report and recommendations to inform decision-making at a particular point in time.


A group of agencies, organizations and/or institutions working together towards common objectives – to address needs in a particular sector (such as health). [adapted from WHO]

A “cluster” is essentially a “sectoral group” and there should be no differentiation between the two in terms of their objectives and activities; the aim of filling gaps and ensuring adequate preparedness and response should be the same. [IASC]

Cluster approach

The Cluster Approach is a way of organizing coordination and cooperation among humanitarian actors to facilitate joint strategic planning. At country level, it:

  • establishes a clear system of leadership and account-ability for international response in each sector, under the overall leadership of the humanitarian coordinator; and
  • provides a framework for effective partnerships among international and national humanitarian actors in each sector.

The aim is to ensure that international responses are appropriately aligned with national structures and to facilitate strong linkages among international organizations, national authorities, national civil society and other stakeholders.

Cluster lead

An agency/organization that formally commits to take on a leadership role within the international humanitarian community in a particular sector/area of activity, to ensure adequate response and high standards of predictability, accountability, partnership, and to serve as provider of last resort when necessary. [IASC]


A process (set of activities) that brings different elements into a harmonious or efficient relationship. [from Oxford English Dictionary]

In the context of humanitarian response, the aim is to have all participating organizations working together in partnership to harmonize efforts and use available resources efficiently within the framework of agreed objectives, priorities and strategies, for the benefit of the affected population(s).

…the proactive process by which allocation of material, human, financial, and technical resources is made more ef-ficient and effective… [Shelter cluster tool kit]


A measure of the extent to which an intervention’s intended outcomes (its specific objectives) have been achieved.


A measure of the relationship between outputs (the prod-ucts produced or services provided by an intervention) and inputs (the resources it uses).


The quality of being fair and impartial. [from Oxford English Dictionary]


An assessment, as systematic and objective as possible, of an ongoing or completed project, programme or policy, its design, implementation and results.

A systematic and impartial examination (of humanitarian action) intended to draw lessons to improve policy and practice and enhance accountability. [ALNAP]

Evaluation answers the questions: Have we achieved what we set out to achieve? If not, why not, and what might we need to change? [Tear Fund]

Gender equality

Gender equality, or equality between women and men, refers to the equal enjoyment by women, girls, boys and men of rights, opportunities, resources and rewards. Equality does not mean that women and men are the same but that their enjoyment of rights, opportunities and life chances are not governed or limited by whether they were born female or male. [IASC Gender Handbook, 2006]

Gender analysis

Gender analysis examines the relationships between females and males and their access to and control of resources, their roles and the constraints they face relative to each other. A gender analysis should be integrated into the humanitarian needs assessment and in all sector assessments or situational analyses to ensure that gender-based injustices and inequalities are not exacerbated by humanitarian interventions and that where possible greater equality and justice in gender relations are promoted. [IASC Gender Handbook, 2006]

Health actors

Organizations and individuals that are involved, directly or indirectly, in the delivery of health services.

Health information system (HIS)

A set of activities and procedures that collects, processes, analyses, disseminates, catalogues and stores data from primary and secondary sources and transforms those data into useful information to support decision-making in the health sector.

Health system

All the organizations, institutions and resources that are devoted to producing health actions. [WHO 2000]

Humanitarian Country team

The equivalent at country level of the IASC at the global level. Chaired by the Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator, the humanitarian country team normally includes the UN and other international organizations that are members of the IASC and present in the country together with a similar number of NGOS (national and international) chosen or elected to be representative of the NGO community as a whole.

Humanitarian reform

A process launched by the international humanitarian community in 2005 to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian response through ensuring greater predictability, accountability and partnership. The key elements are: (1) the ‘Cluster Approach’; (2) a strengthened Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) system; (3) more adequate, timely, flexible and effective humanitarian financing; and (4) the development of strong partnerships between UN and non-UN actors.


The effect on the affected population (e.g. reduction in measles incidence) [Guidelines for CAP mid-year review]

Information management

The process of receiving and storing data in a way in which they can be quickly retrieved whenever needed, and systematically compiling and analysing those data to generate information for early warning, programme planning, management, evaluation, and advocacy purposes.


The desired state that it is intended to achieve – the desired outcome.

Objectives are defined at different levels: overall objectives (or “goals”) of the emergency programme, and specific ob-jectives (or “purposes”) of individual projects that contribute to achieving the higher goals.

Objectives should be “SMART” – Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Realistic and Time-bound.


The actions completed to date by a project (e.g. 10,000 children vaccinated) [Guidelines for CAP mid-year review]


The process/act of observing and checking over a period of time; maintaining regular surveillance over something. [from Oxford English Dictionary]

In the context of humanitarian operations, two forms of monitoring are distinguished:

  • monitoring (surveillance) of the situation – regularly gathering and analysing data on health conditions, risks, ac-cess to services, etc. to detect and measure changes.
  • monitoring the implementation and programmes and projects – regularly gathering and analysing data on project inputs and outputs to answer the questions: Have we done the things we said we were going to do? If not, why not, and what needs to change? [Tear Fund]

Partners / Partnership

Individuals and organizations that collaborate to achieve mutually agreed upon objectives.

The concept of “partnership” connotes shared goals, common responsibility for outcomes, distinct accountabilities and reciprocal obligations.

Partners may include governments, civil society, UN agencies, non-governmental organizations, universities, profes-sional and business associations, multi-lateral organizations, private companies, etc. [WFP programme Guidance manual]

Sample survey

A structured and statistically analysable and comparable method for collecting information on a specific issue. It provides a snap shot of the situation and respondents’ perspectives at the time when the data were collected.


A distinct part of an economy, society or sphere of activity. [Oxford English Dictionary]

In the context of humanitarian response, key sectors in-clude: agriculture; food; health; nutrition; protection; shelter; water, etc.

See also “cluster”.


An agency, organization, group or individual that has direct or indirect interest in a particular activity, or its evaluation. (N.B. for health, this is normally a much larger group than “health actors”.)

Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis is an analysis of the interests and rela-tive influence of the various stakeholders involved.


The approach that will be used to achieve one or more defined objectives.


The systematic collection, analysis and interpretation of data in order to plan, implement and evaluate public health interventions. [WHO]

For examples of more extensive glossaries related to humanitarian and health action, see: