In view of its 17th issue, to be published in July 2021, the Humanitarian Alternatives review is launching a call for papers for its Focus on a topic whose provisional title is “Research and humanitarian aid: the challenges of a collaboration”. If you are a participant, researcher, or observer of the international humanitarian field, and wish to submit an article proposal on this topic, please send a summary of your argument and a draft plan (2 pages maximum) to the following email address before February 15th 2021: email@example.com. You will receive a reply by March 1st 2021 at the latest.
The final article must be submitted before May 31st 2021, with the average length being around 15 000 characters, including spaces (or approximately 2 400 words). Around six or seven articles will be accepted for this section.
As for every issue, your proposals are also welcome for the “Perspectives”, “Transitions”, “Innovations”, “Ethics”, “Reportage” and “Tribune” columns.
Research and humanitarian aid: the challenges of a collaboration
Section co-directed with Valéry Ridde, head of research at the IRD (France) and ISED/UCAD (Senegal), and Daouda Diouf, executive director of Enda-Santé (Senegal)
Despite noteworthy collaborations and the joint work that has been carried out over the last few years, a persistent wariness remains between researchers and humanitarian actors. The former are still sometimes seen as lesson-givers, comfortably settled in their ivory towers, whereas the latter are, in the eyes of the researchers, incapable of thinking before acting. However, few would dispute the respective qualities of each group. It is acknowledged that research teams display methodological rigour, knowledge of theories and expertise in fields (nutrition, health, transport, cities, etc) and contexts (areas, countries, societies, etc) that has been built up over the course of their long-term involvement. No one denies that humanitarian actors have significant capacities for action and reaction, long-term field partners, and expertise in the management and follow-up of projects, as well as humanist values. But the problem lies in the merging of these qualities in order to work together and collaborate. This dichotomy of skills and knowledge is all the more caricatural given that it still too often contributes to reciprocal ignorance or to the undervaluation of joint work.
Those who are familiar with these two worlds know that these caricatural visions are out-of-date. People from both worlds navigate between the two. Many current researchers in the field of humanitarian action were formerly volunteers or employees of NGOs. Partnerships between research teams and NGOs have proven fruitful. We have even seen universities create units to implement humanitarian interventions, and we can no longer keep count of the number of NGOs that have created departments or foundations devoted to research on humanitarian action. The boundaries between these two worlds, formerly real or artificially maintained, have thus become very permeable, especially if we focus less on institutions than on the way in which people from the two worlds collaborate.
Yet the fact remains that these collaborations have not been exploited to their fullest potential, beyond persistent prejudices. Indeed, the organisation of partnerships between humanitarian workers and researchers is never easy. But this collaboration will only really bear fruit if each party realises that it would enable them to go beyond what has already been achieved. Research can give humanitarian actors the means to base their actions on proven theories and conclusive data in order to maximise their efficiency in the field. It can produce knowledge about their actions to go beyond the accountability of the monitoring and evaluation required by sponsors, and become more generalised, to better share the lessons learned and to better capitalise on experiences. Humanitarian actors can be partners for research teams seeking to test interventions whose potential for efficiency and equity has been demonstrated by their research. They can be involved in the sharing of data and field results, but also in processes of advocacy in order to change practices and policies. Yet there are many pitfalls, and the challenges of this partnership remain complex. These problems are clearly institutional, since these two kinds of organisation have opposing cultures, which does not facilitate collaboration between them. Their members also follow very different training routes. Whilst they often share a critical view of the world, they see its transformation on very different timescales which ought to be complementary. Finally, we must not neglect the fact that the possibilities of negative influence, and even manipulation, are also numerous, especially when we take into account the importance of sponsors in the financing of the two domains.
It is on this relationship between the worlds of humanitarian aid and research that we would like to invite you to reflect in this special Focus of the Humanitarian Alternatives review. We want to allow actors from both of these worlds, and their observers, to suggest practical and theoretical reflections on these issues. We especially hope to come up with answers to the following questions:
- What are the challenges of collaboration between research and humanitarian aid?
- Which processes might reinforce collaboration between research and humanitarian aid?
- How can we better train the actors of these two domains in order to better collaboration?
- Which influences (positive/negative) can emerge from these partnerships?
- How can research collaborate with humanitarian action whilst maintaining its independence and rigour?
- How can humanitarian aid collaborate with research without being hampered by the slow pace of knowledge-production?
- How are power issues taken into account in these collaborations?
- What are the particularities of partnerships driven by researchers and humanitarian actors from the Global North, of those driven by researchers and humanitarian actors from the Global South, and of those occurring at the intersection of these two poles?
- What are the institutional and individual issues involved in these collaborations?
- How are reciprocal influences and links/conflicts of interest taken into account?
The articles that we are looking for are intended to share experiences, as reflexive texts enabling the authors to share the lessons drawn from their experiences. We do not expect theoretical articles, but authors must ground their analyses in a rigorous approach based on field data.