Methodology

Brittany Card. 7/2015. Applying Humanitarian Principles to Current Uses of Information Communication Technologies: Gaps in Doctrine and Challenges to Practice.Abstract
The goal of this paper is to identify and address current gaps, challenges and opportunities that face the humanitarian sector as it seeks to apply traditional humanitarian principles to the increasingly central role information communication technologies (ICTs) play in 21st Century humanitarian operations. While much has been written about the roles ICTs may play in support of humanitarian action, there is an absence of literature addressing how core humanitarian principles should guide, limit, and shape the use of these technologies in practice.
Ziad Al Achkar and Nathaniel Raymond. 11/2016. Data preparedness: connecting data, decision making and humanitarian response .Abstract

Signal Program Standards and Ethics Series - Issue 1

Data are a central component of humanitarian response. Frequently, however, there is a disconnect between data, decision-making and response. Informed decisions need to be made in the first hours and days of an emergency, and if the elements to effectively gather, manage and analyse data are not in place before a crisis, then the evidence needed to inform response will not be available quickly enough to matter. What's more, a lack of readiness to use data can even cause "big data disasters".

Organizations need to be prepared to responsibly and effectively deploy and manage data collection and analysis tools, techniques, skilled staff and strategies in a specific operational context to be ready before a disaster strikes. This process is called “data preparedness”. The concept of data preparedness complements and expands on existing OCHA principles on the use of information management in disaster scenarios. This paper, which was reviewed by OCHA and other UN organizations, seeks to provide a blueprint for how the concept of data preparedness may be put into practice by members of the humanitarian data ecosystem. It is the first issue in the Signal Program's ongoing "Standards and Ethics" white paper series.

Ronak B. Patel, John de Boer, and Robert Muggah. 10/2016. Conceptualizing City Fragility and Resilience. United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. Read PublicationAbstract
This paper introduces a preliminary analytical framework that re-conceptualizes fragility and resilience at the city level. It aligns the two concepts across a range of political, social, economic and environmental factors enabling comparison across thousands of cities globally based on existing data. The framework was then partially applied to map out fragility in over 2,100 cities. It finds that roughly 14 percent of the sample score in the highly fragile range. Another 66 percent report average levels of fragility while 16 percent report low fragility.4 Of course, fragility and resilience are both dynamic and change over time. The paper finds that all cities are fragile to some degree, though intensity varies in relation to the aggregation of risk.
Caitlin Howarth. 9/2017. “A Rights-based Approach to Information in Humanitarian Assistance.” PLOS Currents: Disasters. Read PublicationAbstract
Crisis-affected populations and humanitarian aid providers are both becoming increasingly reliant on information and communications technology (ICTs) for finding and provisioning aid. This is exposing critical, unaddressed gaps in the legal and ethical frameworks that traditionally defined and governed the professional conduct of humanitarian action. The most acute of these gaps is a lack of clarity about what human rights people have regarding information in disaster, and the corresponding obligations incumbent upon governments and aid providers.  This need is lent urgency by emerging evidence demonstrating that the use of these technologies in crisis response may be, in some cases, causing harm to the very populations they intend to serve.  Preventing and mitigating these harms, while also working to responsibly ensure access to the benefits of information during crises, requires a rights-based framework to guide humanitarian operations. In this brief report, we provide a commentary that accompanies our report, the Signal Code: A Human Rights Approach to Information During Crisis, where we have identified five rights pertaining to the use of information and data during crisis which are grounded in current international human rights and customary law. It is our belief that the continued relevance of the humanitarian project, as it grows increasingly dependent on the use of data and ICTs, urgently requires a discussion of these rights and corresponding obligations.
Faine Greenwood, Caitlin Howarth, Danielle Escudero Poole, Nathaniel A. Raymond, and Daniel P. Scarnecchia. 1/2017. The Signal Code: A Human Rights Approach to Information During Crisis.Abstract

 

The Signal Code is the result of a six month study by the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to identify what human rights people have to information during disasters. The Signal Code identifies five rights from multiple sources of international human rights and humanitarian law and standards that already exist and apply to humanitarian information activities (HIAs). 

These five rights are the following: 1. The Right to Information; 2. The Right to Protection; 3. The Right to Privacy and Security; 4. The Right to Data Agency; and 5. The Right to Rectification and Redress. The goal of the Signal Code is to provide a foundation for the future development of ethical obligations for humanitarian actors and minimum technical standards for the safe, ethical, and responsible conduct of HIAs before, during, and after disasters strike.

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Ronak B. Patel, Jami King, Laura Phelps, and David Sanderson. 1/2017. What Practices Are Used to Identify and Prioritize Vulnerable Populations Affected by Urban Humanitarian Emergencies?. Humanitarian Evidence Programme. Read PublicationAbstract

Individuals and organizations responding to humanitarian crises recognize the need to improve urban emergency response and preparedness – including the need to devise better methods for assessing vulnerability within urban populations. 

This systematic review represents the first ever attempt to systematically search, sort and synthesize the existing evidence in order to consolidate findings on the tools, methods and metrics used to identify and prioritize vulnerable people, households and communities, including those displaced within and to urban areas. It is accompanied by a stand-alone executive summary and evidence brief. It forms part of a series of humanitarian evidence syntheses and systematic reviews commissioned by the Humanitarian Evidence Programme

Vincenzo Bollettino, Patrick Vinck, Tilly Alcayna, and Philip Dy. 9/2017. “Introduction to Socio-Ecological Resilience.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Natural Hazard Science. Read PublicationAbstract

In recent years, the notion of resilience has grown into an important concept for both scholars and practitioners working on disasters. This evolution reflects a growing interest from diverse disciplines in a holistic understanding of complex systems, including how societies interact with their environment. This new lens offers an opportunity to focus on communities’ ability to prepare for and adapt to the challenges posed by natural hazards, and the mechanism they have developed to cope and adapt to threats. This is important because repeated stresses and shocks still cause serious damages to communities across the world, despite efforts to better prepare for disasters.

Scholars from a variety of disciplines have developed resilience frameworks both to guide macro-level policy decisions about where to invest in preparedness and to measure which systems perform best in limiting losses from disasters and ensuring rapid recovery. Yet there are competing conceptions of what resilience encompasses and how best to measure it. While there is a significant amount of scholarship produced on resilience, the lack of a shared understanding of its conceptual boundaries and means of measurement make it difficult to demonstrate the results or impact of resilience programs.

If resilience is to emerge as a concept capable of aiding decision-makers in identifying socio-geographical areas of vulnerability and improving preparedness, then scholars and practitioners need to adopt a common lexicon on the different elements of the concept and harmonize understandings of the relationships amongst them and means of measuring them. This article reviews the origins and evolution of resilience as an interdisciplinary, conceptual umbrella term for efforts by different disciplines to tackle complex problems arising from more frequent natural disasters. It concludes that resilience is a useful concept for bridging different academic disciplines focused on this complex problem set, while acknowledging that specific measures of resilience will differ as different units and levels of analysis are employed to measure disparate research questions.

Rob Grace. 9/2017. “The Humanitarian as Negotiator: Developing Capacity Across the Sector”.Abstract

This paper examines the dynamics at play in ongoing efforts to cultivate negotiation capacity among professionals working in the humanitarian sector. Based on extensive interviews conducted with humanitarian practitioners, this paper addresses three overarching issues. The first is humanitarian professionals' current understanding of humanitarian negotiation as a concept. On this issue, the paper examines the difficulties of defining humanitarian negotiation and the competing answers to the question of how to conceptually delineate humanitarian negotiation as an activity. The second is the types of negotiation capacity—cognitive, emotional, social, and cultural—that humanitarian practitioners deem to be relevant to their work. The third is the difficulties likely to be faced as capacity building efforts in this field continue to unfold. Overall, this paper aims to paint a portrait of the state of humanitarian negotiation capacity building, as well as what will be needed moving forward.

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Ronak B. Patel, Jami King, Laura Phelps, and David Sanderson. 10/2017. “Discussion Informed by Recurrent Lessons from a Systematic Review on Targeting Practices in Urban Humanitarian Crises.” PLOS Currents: Disasters. Read PublicationAbstract

Introduction: Urbanization has challenged many humanitarian practices given the complexity of cities. Urban humanitarian crises have similarly made identifying vulnerable populations difficult. As humanitarians respond to cities with chronic deficiencies in basic needs stressed by a crisis, identifying and prioritizing the most in need populations with finite resources is critical.

Methods: The full systematic review applied standard systematic review methodology that was described in detail, peer-reviewed, and published before the research was conducted.

Results: While the science of humanitarian practice is still developing, a systematic review of targeting vulnerable populations in urban humanitarian crises shed some light on the evidence base to guide policy and practice. This systematic review, referenced and available online, led to further findings that did not meet the pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria for evidence set out in the full review but that the authors, in their expert opinion, believe provide valuable insight nonetheless given their recurrence.

Ronak B. Patel and Leah Nosal. 1/2017. Defining the Resilient City. United Nations University Centre for Policy Research. Read PublicationAbstract
This background note is part of the United Nations University project on Resilience and the Fragile City and is meant to complement the paper ‘Conceptualizing City Fragility and Resilience’ (de Boer, Muggah, Patel 2016) which formally presents the fragile and resilient cities assessment framework. As resilience has become a more prominent and pervasive concept, this paper explores its application for urban environments in contexts of fragility (i.e. urban zones characterized by complex crises that often involve high levels of violence, extreme poverty, and disaster simultaneously) (see de Boer 2015). The paper reviews dozens of resilience frameworks and highlights a number of important findings: 1) the majority of existing resilience frameworks are useful for assessing resilience to natural disasters, yet few are effective in understanding resilience in contexts of fragility; and (2) many existing frameworks have yet to be empirically tested and largely rest on a Theory of Change. This means that very few indicators have been independently derived based on empirical data of what works. To fill these gaps, the paper concludes by proposing an approach to assessing resilience in contexts of urban fragility, which is then fully developed in the framework paper mentioned above.
Summer Marion and Michael R. Snyder. 8/2017. “Book Review: The Power Behind Global Health .” International Peace Institute Global Observatory. Read PublicationAbstract
Doctoral student Summer Marion recently published “The Power Behind Global Health,” a review of Chelsea Clinton and Devi Sridhar’s recent book, Governing Global Health: Who Runs the World, and Why? The review was co-authored with Michael R. Snyder, a research analyst at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and published by the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory. In their book, Clinton and Sridhar profile the inner workings of four of the biggest players in global heath, including two traditional institutions -- the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank – and their younger cousins, known as public-private partnerships (PPPs) – the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Marion and Snyder analyze the book’s empirical contributions to the field of global health governance, examining disruption and innovation brought about by the rise of PPPs. Additionally, the review highlights the close relationships among PPPs, global health reform, and recent shifts toward earmarked and philanthropic funding. Finally, the book review evaluates Clinton and Sridhar’s contributions to principal-agent theory, a commonly used framework in studies of multilateral aid, and potential for elaboration in future research.
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik and Nathaniel A. Raymond. 5/2017. “Beyond the Protective Effect: Towards a Theory of Harm for Information Communication Technologies in Mass Atrocity Response.” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 11, 1, Pp. 9-24. Read PublicationAbstract
Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are now being employed as a standard part of mass atrocity response, evidence collection, and research by non-governmental organizations, governments, and the private sector. Deployment of these tools and techniques occur for a variety of stated reasons, most notably the ostensible goal of “protecting” vulnerable populations. However, these often experimental applications of ICTs and digital data are occurring in the absence of agreed normative frameworks and accepted theory to guide their ethical and responsible use. This article surveys the current state-of-the-art of ICT use in mass atrocity response and research to identify harms and hazards inherent in the use of ICT-centric approaches in mass atrocity producing environments. The article proposes an initial theory of harm for evaluating the potential risks and impacts of these applications as a critical component of developing ethical standards for the responsible use of ICTs in the mass atrocity response context.
International Committee Red of the Cross and Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. 2/2018. Engaging with People Affected by Armed Conflicts and Other Situations of Violence: Recommendations for Humanitarian Organizations and Donors in the Digital Era.Abstract

ICRC & the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) launch a joint discussion paper that provides recommendations for humanitarian organisations and donors in today's digital era.

Based on a review of the relevant literature and interviews with representatives of the humanitarian sector, donors, and community-based organizations, the paper offers an overview of how the humanitarian community currently engages with people affected by armed conflict and violence; a review of the opportunities and challenges for meaningful engagement; and a series of recommendations for both humanitarian organizations and donors.

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