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Researching local humanitarian action through partnerships with local actors

Briefing/policy paper

Written by Larissa Fast

Briefing/policy paper

The Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) 2017–2019 Integrated Programme seeks to understand the complexities and dynamics of humanitarian action ‘from the ground up’, an initiative tied to a pivot in the humanitarian community towards ‘localisation’ in humanitarian action and intervention. There have been calls in recent years to re-evaluate the links between international, national and local humanitarian assistance, and the role of affected communities in designing and leading aid efforts. HPG’s research agenda has endeavoured to investigate approaches to, and the challenges of, such efforts.

This briefing note is part of a process of reflection on HPG’s partnerships with local actors. It assesses how possible it is to co-create research projects with them in a process involving not only researchers on the ground but also local policy and think tank organisations and existing community support initiatives. It is the second paper in a series that synthesises findings from HPG’s localised humanitarianism research and carries on where the first briefing note left off in discussing how relationships with local actors can develop, and how the parties involved have navigated the partnerships. Built on the observations of HPG researchers and the local partners they work with, the paper concludes with a series of reflections on partnering with local institutions.

Key messages

  • Working with local actors requires an investment of time, proper communications structures, clear expectations and systems in place that allow for good feedback loops.

  • Developing partnerships with local organisations means assessing and valuing different types of expertise and levels of possible involvement. Being aware of these from the outset requires deliberate effort to understand contexts and capacity restrictions.

  • There are many possible versions of a research partnership. Working across international, national and local levels makes it imperative to understand power dynamics, levels of authority and existing relationships between stakeholders.

  • A partnership statement of intent means actors are aware of their role, their level of involvement and, crucially, the expectations of those involved and of the project overall. This provides an avenue for transparent engagement.

  • As with localising humanitarian action, localising research comes with considerable challenges, and can unearth some uncomfortable truths. Devolving research is a complicated process, and communities will each have their own difficulties and strengths.

  • Insights from the researchers suggest that efforts to involve local actors have considerable advantages, including broadening the understanding of context and needs, offering nuance to research findings and highlighting potential biases.

Larissa Fast