Promoting an evidence based approach to humanitarian action at the World Humanitarian Summit

The Power of Humanitarian Evidence

Our first blog has been contributed by Alice Obrecht and Paul Knox-Clarke of ALNAP.

The World Humanitarian Summit agenda outlines several ambitious aims for improving the situation of those affected by crisis. To achieve these aims, there will need to be a great harnessing of power: a harnessing of political will, of financial resources, and of affirmation and support for core humanitarian values, none of which are small feats. Yet there is a further type of power that needs to be harnessed in order to deliver on the Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity, one that has received less attention than the principles, money or politics: the power of knowledge, and the power of having better data and evidence to support such knowledge.

Stronger knowledge, informed by better quality, access to, and use of evidence, is critical to achieving all five of the Secretary General’s core responsibilities. We cannot ‘prevent and end conflicts’ or ‘uphold the norms that safeguard humanity’ if we do not know what are effective ways of achieving conflict prevention, mitigation and response, and if humanitarians are unable to responsibly collect and share data in conflict settings. We will fail to ‘leave no one behind’ if we don’t know how many people are behind, where they are, and how to recognise them. And we certainly cannot ‘change people’s lives by ending need’, or competently ‘invest in humanity’ if we do not know what interventions are most effective, most cost-efficient and of highest quality from the perspective of affected people.

Issues concerning evidence and data were raised repeatedly throughout the Summit consultations yet only received focused attention towards the end of this process, with a special session on evidence at the Global Consultation in Berlin in October. Despite this late treatment, there was significant interest and energy amongst participants at the Global Consultation to see further steps taken to improve the credibility, access and use of evidence and data in humanitarian action.

In order to capitalise on this, a partnership of over 20 organisations has come together to raise attention to the challenges around evidence production, access and use that must be addressed in order to realise the vision of the World Humanitarian Summit. Working under the title ‘The Evidence Lounge,’ in the lead up to the Summit, members of this partnership will be starting a discussion on the many ways in which evidence, data and knowledge can be enhanced for better humanitarian action. There are three key areas that this initiative is addressing, which various members of the Evidence Lounge partnership will be highlighting in blogs over the coming weeks.

Several participants of the Evidence Lounge are working hard to improve the production and analysis of high-quality and independent evidence for humanitarian action. ACAPS will outline their case for why we need more objective and independent needs assessments, and the ecosystem needed to achieve this, while 3ie will outline the methodological challenges for generating rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of humanitarian action and ways to overcome them.

Blogs by the Manchester HCRI and by Tufts University will highlight the importance of the access to, and sharing of, evidence, particularly in conflict settings. Manchester HCRI’s work has focused on challenges to the securitisation of humanitarian data in conflict while the contribution from Tufts will connect this to the issue of gender, which has been highlighted at the Summit as the topic of one of seven high-level roundtables.

And finally, there are many organisations working to improve the use of evidence in order to achieve better humanitarian performance. As a donor, DFID will talk about what they have learned from their pioneering Humanitarian Innovation and Evidence programme, while the IRC will offer an NGO’s perspective on improving the collection and use of evidence, reflecting on their organisational shift towards becoming an outcomes-driven and evidence-based organisation.

These issues have been priority concerns for the ALNAP network over the past five years. In 2013 the network came together to identify the challenges to evidence-informed humanitarian action, and to recommend actions that would address these challenges. Since then, many ALNAP members have continued to focus on this issue. The WHS process provides an opportunity to further energise these organisational and system-wide efforts – in order to create an aid system that really knows what it is doing.

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