Embracing Ceremonial Authority: Coordinating Education in Emergencies through the Education Cluster – illustrated by the cases of Mali and Nigeria

This study, informed by various sociological neo-institutional approaches, investigates whether a global mechanism such as the cluster approach represents an adequate framework to structuring humanitarian response. It sheds light on the coordination of education in emergencies (EiE), a relatively new area of intervention within the humanitarian system, whose importance, despite countless advocacy attempts at the international level, is contested both by donors and humanitarian practitioners. The humanitarian system itself, today considered a professionalized organizational field, seems unable to adequately respond to the increasingly numerous and complex contemporary crises that have evolved in the course of the past few decades. Through an examination of documents focusing on the performance of clusters as well as semi-structured interviews with EiE experts involved in the response in Mali and Nigeria, the author identifies internal and external factors that have an impact in one form or another on the performance of Education Clusters in these contexts. Main findings suggest that: 1) both analysis of the literature and expert interviews reveal precisely the same factors (in-country situation, HR capacity, prioritization of EiE, advocacy for EiE, funding for EiE, collaboration across levels) as having had the most influence on the work of Education Clusters in the past few years. The question arises of to what degree organizational learning within the humanitarian system in general, and within the cluster approach in particular, has been researched 2) determining whether the roots of potential influential factors are inherent in the nature of the cluster approach as a coordination mechanism or stem from the external environment in which Education Clusters are embedded (e.g. Mali and Nigeria) remains a challenge 3) decoupling in the practical implementation of EiE activities from the formal structure of the cluster approach is inevitable due to the complex and fragmented interplay of local, national and international actors operating at the different intervention levels From a sociological neo-institutional perspective, the urge to create coordination mechanisms can be linked to increased uncertainty as to how to tackle new challenges in the landscape of crises and conflicts within an ever-growing, multi-dimensional humanitarian system. Coordination mechanisms may be considered as being established to fulfilling imagined needs and expectations − what might be termed myths − of the contemporary society/international community. Given the current challenges the humanitarian system, and especially EiE, face the question arises: To what extent does the structuring of humanitarian action through standardized approaches contribute to progress and improvement and at which point are boundaries reached eventually resulting in a counterproductive situation?