Humanitarian Negotiation in Practice

A core tension persists in the humanitarian sector surrounding the role that negotiation plays in humanitarian action. On the one hand, many feel that humanitarians have nothing to negotiate, that humanitarian action is rooted in humanitarian principles - humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence - which are non-negotiable. On the other hand, a reality of humanitarian field operations is that negotiations are a crucial and perpetual component of gaining and maintaining access to affected populations, protecting the security of staff, and cooperating with local actors. As a result, humanitarian actors find themselves caught between the need to respect humanitarian principles, and the necessity of striking deals in order to fulfill organizational mandates or operational imperatives.

Further dilemmas arise from the confidential nature of negotiations, which can hinder coordination between humanitarian organizations negotiating in parallel in the same context, and can complicate efforts to carry forward lessons learned. The humanitarian sector has also been slow to appreciate the overall importance of negotiations. Indeed, despite efforts to develop policy guidance, trainings, and a body of practitioner-oriented literature discussing past experiences, the emergence of a community of practice in this field - as well as a common negotiating culture across the sector - remains an ongoing and nascent process.

This podcast will explore the state of the field of humanitarian negotiation.

June, 2015