Strategies in Policy Analysis and Negotiation (SPAN)

Founded: 2005
Principal Investigator: Michael VanRooyen, MD, MPH
Status: Active Program
Regions of Focus: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Mali and the Sahel region, Myanmar, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria Crisis, Ukraine
Research Theme: Humanitarian negotiation, humanitarian diplomacy, humanitarian protection, operationalizing the humanitarian principles, human rights, humanitarian-development nexus, professional development, context analysis, case studies, policy research


Complex emergencies, protracted armed conflicts, acute health emergencies, and situations of mass displacement have led to record numbers of people depending on humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian professionals struggle to meet the needs of populations in crisis and improve their protection, while attempting to preserve humanitarian principles in highly politicized environments. The capacity to maneuver effectively through diverse and pervasive obstacles hinges on the development of a space for critical reflection, new tools and methods, and space for professional dialogue.

The Strategies in Policy Analysis and Negotiation (SPAN) Program aims to support humanitarian practitioners by providing critical analysis of operational challenges in crisis settings and professional development on methods to address these challenges. We provide resources to enable practitioners to make operational and policy decisions that are evidence-based and responsive to the context of humanitarian action.  SPAN publishes responsive, independent, and critical analysis of key policy issues facing the humanitarian sector, including synergies between humanitarian negotiation, protection, mediation, diplomacy, and the challenges of operationalizing the humanitarian principles in complex environments. Through its training and policy analysis projects, SPAN promotes locally-driven approaches to decision-making on humanitarian assistance and works side by side with local researchers, experts, and organizations.

Project: Executive Negotiation Project (ENP)

Building upon HHI's extensive experience in conflict and access analysis, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative Executive Negotiation Project aims to develop the professional skills of executive leaders and senior frontline leaders in negotiation, conflict resolution, and community engagement. ENP workshops are grounded in critical reflections on negotiation practice that HHI has captured through over a decade of context-specific professional development and interagency dialogue. ENP training opportunities aim to foster exchange on the priorities, challenges, and dilemmas of humanitarian negotiation. The project is composed of three distinct yet inter-related activities:

  1. Negotiation Strategies for Senior Leaders in the Field – Guiding executive-level leaders to advance strategic approaches to negotiation and conflict resolution, bringing advanced training to field sites.
  2. Humanitarian Access Negotiation for Frontline Leaders – Enabling senior field-level (frontline) leaders to provide deployable tools and strategies to enhance communication, coordination, and program effectiveness.
  3. The Humanitarian Design (HD) Lab | Humanitarian Innovation Learning Partnership – Establish a learning partnership to analyze and develop the ‘playbook for innovation that works’, building on rigorous and systematic analysis to draw lessons learned from the field to identify both barriers and strategies for success.

Additional Projects

  1. Strengthening humanitarian engagement capacities of practitioners
  2. South Sudan Nexus Case Study
  3. Improving Protection of Civilians in Humanitarian Context : A Capacity Development and Research Project
  4. Study on civilian perceptions of security in Mali (2020 – 2021)
  5. ATHA (2005 – 2020)


Translating research into informed policy- and decision-making has always been central to HHI’s work. Since 2005, the SPAN Program team has employed a model that brings independent and responsive research, critical analysis, and development of evidence-based tools and methods to support field practitioners and decision makers. SPAN works in collaboration with key agencies including humanitarian organizations, think tanks, training organizations, and independent researchers, alongside humanitarian professionals to:

  1. Make independent, rigorous research, and critical assessments available humanitarian professionals and stakeholders at all levels of the system;
  2. Build skills, knowledge, and confidence among professionals as they face the dilemmas of delivering assistance and seeking protection for populations on the frontlines of humanitarian action; and
  3. Provide space for critical exchange and debate on salient policy themes and issues.