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29th ALNAP Annual Meeting: Engagement of crisis-affected people in humanitarian action

Research reports

Written by Paul Knox-Clarke

​Since its foundation in 1997, ALNAP (the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action) has consistently highlighted the relationship between humanitarian agencies and crisis-affected populations as critical to improving both accountability and performance.

Despite this consistent concern with issues of engagement, participation, communication and accountability, institutional commitments and rhetoric are thwarted in practice by a number of factors including time, bureaucratic impediments, lack of incentives and funding, security and political constraints, differences between the social and cultural values of outsiders and insiders, and lack of capacity. Engaging with crisis affected populations can be costly, complicated, time-consuming and, arguably, inappropriate for international actors in certain humanitarian situations.

Some remain unconvinced that the participation of affected people in humanitarian responses can be anything other than tokenistic or even manipulative. Hard data on levels, quality and outcomes of various approaches to engaging with crisis-affected populations are scarce. 

This paper summarises current understandings of methods and approaches to engaging with crisis-affected populations in humanitarian action. It is based on a literature review and aims to provide a basis for discussion at the 29th ALNAP Annual Meeting in Addis Ababa in March 2014.

Brown, D., Donini, A. and P. Knox Clarke