Setting up a multisectoral advisory committee
To be effective, the NIPN should in principle be an integral part of the existing multisectoral nutrition system at national level. This can be facilitated by creating the NIPN Multisectoral Advisory Committee (MAC) as the formal structure connecting NIPN to the national multisectoral and multistakeholder nutrition coordination system.
As shown in the visual below, the MAC links the NIPN country team with national stakeholders and decision makers, and plays a critical role at the different stages of the NIPN operational cycle.*****
The MAC links the NIPN with the broader multisectoral nutrition policy environment*****
The MAC has the following functions:
- Guidance and advice as it orients the NIPN activities and workstream
- Facilitation to mobilise inputs (data or technical expertise)
- Dissemination and communication
Throughout the NIPN operational cycle, the MAC contributes to a clear and regular two-way information flow between the NIPN team and the national stakeholders and decision makers.
It is a critical element of the NIPN structure, which stimulates and contributes to policy dialogue at national and - where appropriate - sub-national level.
Ideally, the MAC is formalized through a government-approved mandate or decree to ensure leverage and to mobilise the decision-making power of higher level national multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder coordination structures in nutrition (see the Guatemala case study below).*****
In most countries, particularly those that have signed up to join the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, multisectoral coordination mechanisms for nutrition are in place and functional. These are typically structures with membership from all nutrition-relevant ministries such as health, agriculture, gender, water, and planning among others. In certain countries this structure falls under the highest political level such as the President’s or Vice President’s Office and in others the coordination falls under a particular ministry.
In most countries these coordination structures are established at national level. In some countries they are also being established at sub-national level. If coordination at the sub-national level is in place, a MAC can also be established at the sub-national level (see the Guatemala case study below).
Embedding a MAC in existing structures facilitates strategic influencing of policy decisions, fosters ownership, avoids duplication of efforts, and ensures institutionalization and sustainability of the MAC.
Each country has its unique multisectoral nutrition coordination structure and the NIPN MAC should be anchored in this existing structure. In countries where a national multisectoral nutrition coordination structure is not yet existent or functional, it is still important to establish a MAC, linking NIPN to the relevant line ministries which are responsible for nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive interventions.
Taking into consideration the diversity of the national contexts, the following scenarios can be found:
- Scenario 1: Countries that have functioning national multisectoral coordination structures in place which meet the MAC’s purposes and role.
- Scenario 2: Countries that have functioning national multisectoral coordination structures in place which do NOT meet the MAC’s purposes and role.
- Scenario 3: Countries that do not yet have a national multisectoral coordination structure officially in place.
Each country set-up will be linked to a different scenario, influencing how the MAC can be established and how to best anchor it to multisectoral coordination structures.*****
NIPN operates through a three-stage process of question formulation, data analysis, and communication of findings to influence policy decisions in nutrition. The MAC has a critical role to play in ensuring that the focus of these processes is relevant, appropriate and timely for the different stakeholders.
With respect to the formulation of policy questions, the MAC:
- Contributes to capturing and orienting broad policy demand
- Contributes to the drafting of policy questions
- Validates the policy questions to be answered by NIPN
- Ensures the NIPN time frame to answer policy questions is aligned with the needs of the decision makers
To support data analysis, the MAC:
- Facilitates access to data and technical expertise from government and non-government partners
- Ensures linkages and complementarity with other national initiatives on nutrition data and evidence generation
Regarding communication and dissemination of findings, the MAC:
- Interprets, contextualizes and validates findings
- Facilitates dissemination of intermediary outputs to other actors (e.g. results and recommendations of a data gap assessment) who are better placed to take relevant action
- Supports the formulation of key messages
- Contributes to disseminating and explaining answers to policy questions to policy decision makers
The MAC plays a role in all steps of the NIPN operational cycle
A series of core principles guide the creation of the MAC in country. The following principles will allow the MAC to be effective and efficient:
- Embedded within existing multisectoral coordination structures and high-level representation of each key sector that contributes to the implementation of the Multisectoral Nutrition Policies and Plans of Action.
- Formalized: Operating procedures and terms of reference should be formally endorsed by all stakeholders. Preferably, where possible, the mandate and functions of the MAC need formal government approval or a decree, or any other official description of the roles and composition, such as a terms of reference.
- Continuity of high-level participation: MAC members, especially sectoral government representatives, are invited because of their strategic position and influence, and their convening power. They play a pivotal role and should not be represented by lower-level staff.
- Open to participation by external experts: Non-government experts might be invited to join the MAC on an ad hoc basis to provide expertise and enhance complementarity with other initiatives. For example, representatives of the SUN networks (donors, UN, civil society, research and academia, private sector).
The positioning and composition of the MAC will depend on the structures already in place in country. The following steps help to establish a MAC which is appropriate to country context and needs:
- Review coordination structures of multisectoral policies and plans for nutrition
- Select the best option with all stakeholders
- Prepare terms of reference and way of working
- Appoint the Chair and other members
1. Review coordination structures of multisectoral policies and plans of action for nutrition
A review of existing national multisectoral coordination structures can be undertaken as a first step to help identify the different options for positioning the MAC. Such a review might have already taken place during the preparation phase of the NIPN project.
The review needs to be conducted at the administrative level of the multisectoral nutrition coordination in place, which in most countries is at the national level and in some countries is also at sub-national level. In cases where the NIPN platform is also operating at sub-national level the review and the MAC establishment will focus on that very level.
Such a review assesses:
- Organization of national multisectoral nutrition coordination structures
- Existence of coordinating committees and where they sit within government structures
- Degree of multisectoral involvement
- Degree of functionality
- Mandate and theme of technical committees
- Influence of technical committees on decision-making in nutrition
Note: In cases where a technical multisectoral committee exists with a specific mandate in Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning of the Multisectoral Nutrition Policy and Plan of Action such a committee might be well placed to take up the MAC functions. This would allow complementarity and synergy between NIPN and other nutrition data initiatives (see the Ethiopia case study below).*****
2. Select the best option with all stakeholders
Based on the review, several options will become apparent.
It is important that all options are considered and discussed with the national government and non-government partners to reach agreement. The MAC will be most effective when there is full consensus among stakeholders on its positioning, composition and mandate.
Depending on country context, the review may identify the following scenarios:
- A multisectoral committee already exists and can efficiently take on the MAC role (scenario 1).
- A multisectoral committee already exists but does not have the capacities to efficiently take on the MAC role. In such cases, a new committee or sub-working group may be created that formally links to the existing structure. Linkages need to be spelt out (scenario 2).
- A multisectoral coordination structure does not yet exist in country, or is not fully functional. In such cases, a MAC will need to be formed with clear links to decision makers (scenario 3).
The core principles of the MAC and the following factors should be considered when choosing the best option for the MAC:
- Functionality: Is the proposed option currently functioning appropriately, with regular, well-attended meetings, visible outputs and noticeable linkages to high-level coordination structures which are being leveraged when needed?
- Efficiency: Does the proposed option operate in an efficient way? Does it have the ability to convene the right people and to produce high-quality outputs in a relatively short time frame?
- Representativeness: Does the proposed option allow for full representation of all sectors involved in the Multisectoral Nutrition Plan of Action, and is there active participation of all these representatives?
- Authority: Does the proposed option have the authority to convene and are the opinions and recommendations of the committee listened to and acted upon by high-level authorities?
3. Prepare Terms of Reference and way of working
Written and signed Terms of Reference (ToRs) for the MAC could be part of the formalization.
This TOR should include:
- The formal mandate of the MAC
- The objectives of the MAC in relation to the NIPN operational cycle
- The tasks of the MAC
- The roles and responsibilities of the MAC Chair, the MAC Secretary and the other members
- The mechanisms of accountability of individual members as well as the MAC as a whole
- The agreed way of working
- The description of relationships with higher coordination structures
In practice, the way of working of the MAC must be adapted to its role in the operational cycle of NIPN as well as the needs and timelines of the relevant policy processes. An annual work plan prepared in close collaboration with the NIPN team will help the MAC in the planning of its meetings and other activities.
Meeting frequency will depend on the NIPN operational cycle. Flexibility is required to be able to respond to unforeseen changes in policy and programmes direction due to external developments (e.g. publication of new data or new insights).
4. Appoint the Chair and other members
The Chair of the MAC and its members will need to have the capacities to take on their roles. These roles are not minor and therefore sufficient time needs to be allocated to the MAC meetings and follow-up work. High-level Chairs may not have sufficient time to prepare an agenda or follow-up actions of a meeting and therefore require a good Secretary with sufficient time allocation to do this work. It could be a member of the NIPN core team.
Experience suggests that the Chair and the members need to be officially nominated by their respective government institutions, and mandated to participate, speak and act on behalf of their institution. Practically, this could be done by an official memo from the Human Resources department; this will ensure dedicated participation. Appointing alternates may reduce the risk of gaps due to high turnover in government bodies.
Skills and competencies
In addition to the overall principles and criteria to establish a MAC, it is helpful to identify a Chair and MAC members with the following skills and competencies:
- Deep understanding of the relevant sectoral policy, planning and budgeting processes, timelines and actors which are relevant to nutrition
- Understanding of and experience in multisectoral nutrition strategy development and/or coordination
- Collaborative and open-minded attitude towards other sectors
- Capacity to influence strategy
- Convening power and leverage
- Influential and large network
In addition to the above, it is useful to select a Chair who has ‘soft’ skills in trust building, consensus building and conflict management. She or he should have the convening power and ability to mobilise engagement and action across sectors.
Nominated MAC members and alternates from government institutions could benefit through the capacity building efforts of NIPN, such as participation in workshops and webinars related to the NIPN operational cycle of ‘questions-analysis-findings’.
Examples illustrating this approach can be found at country level: Ethiopia involved all the members of the National Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Steering Committee in the inception workshop of the NIPN Capacity Strategy development while Guatemala embarked the core MAC group composed of four key ministries on the workshop initiating the NIPN question formulation process (see the Ethiopia and Guatemala case studies below).*****