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Understanding the role of narratives in humanitarian policy change

Working papers

Written by Patrick Saez, John Bryant

Image credit:Tim Harcourt-Powell Image license:CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Stories have been key to building humanitarianism as a collective ideology, underpinned by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.

Humanitarian policy narratives are stories constructed and disseminated to shape beliefs and attitudes relating to humanitarian crises and aid, and thereby influence the policies of governments and aid organisations in this area. They particularly seek to influence decisions as to when and where humanitarian aid is needed, who should receive it, who should provide it and how. However, studies on the production of narratives in the humanitarian sector are scarce and have focused on frames and stories used to raise financial donations, rather than to enable or hinder policy change. In this paper we want to initiate a reflection on how the moral frameworks that underpin humanitarian policy narratives shape change in the sector.