Contested Evidence: The challenges and limits of evidence-based approaches to humanitarian action

Humanitarian action is fraught with challenges, and frequently has no choice but to act in the face of considerable uncertainties. The use of evidence and evidence-based approaches – knowing what does and does not work in responding to conflict, disasters and other emergencies – is crucial to improving the effectiveness and efficiency of humanitarian interventions. With access to information and evidence greater than ever, promoting evidence-based approaches to humanitarian action has been given much attention in the past years.

What does the greater focus on evidence mean in practice for humanitarian work? Do institutional and political agendas promote the selective design or application of evidence-based approaches? Are there situations where focusing on evidence conflicts with other priorities? And how do evidence-based approaches relate to accountability? In other words, what are the limits to an evidence-based approach to humanitarian action?

As part of Humanitarian Evidence Week, on 7 November, PHAP hosted an online discussion, looking critically at the concept of evidence-based approaches to humanitarian action.

The event featured an overview of the concept of evidence and how it has been used in the humanitarian sector. The presentation was followed by a moderated discussion on the dilemmas of evidence among a panel of experts. The event also provided the opportunity for participants to share their perspectives on the topic discussed, through the live chat and the possibility to pose questions to the panelists.

Read the article by Marc DuBois on the main concerns regarding evidence in the aid sector

Session recording (YouTube - faster loading time)

Session recording (Adobe Connect - higher quality)

Session recording (audio podcast)

Target audience

The event is particularly targeted to humanitarian practitioners, who are seeking for a stronger understanding of the various approaches to humanitarian action.

Recommended resources

Guest experts

Nancy Cartwright

Professor at University of Durham and University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and Co-Director, Centre for Humanities Engaging Science and Society (CHESS), University of Durham

Paul Knox Clarke

Head of Research, ALNAP

Lars Peter Nissen

Director, ACAPS

Momodou Touray

Development Advisor, Independent

Event host

Marc DuBois, currently an independent humanitarian consultant/researcher/blogger, was the Executive Director of MSF-UK from March 2008 until March 2014. He joined MSF in 1999, landing as a project coordinator in Khartoum, Sudan, where he managed a basic healthcare program. Following Sudan, Marc went to Angola as a Humanitarian Affairs Officer and then moved to Amsterdam, spending over six years in the Humanitarian Affairs Department of MSF-Holland, first as an advisor and later as head of department and researcher. Marc has an undergraduate degree in philosophy, an MA in development studies and a degree in law.

Geneva Humanitarian Connector

This event was made possible through the Geneva Humanitarian Connector, an initiative of PHAP supported by the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

November 7th, 2017 3:00 PM   through   4:30 PM

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