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What is Evidence-based Humanitarian Response?

How does a humanitarian organization choose where to direct its limited resources? The evidence-based humanitarian response comes in handy to answer this difficult question. It’s a way to use data and information to make calculated decisions. Not only does it help to direct resources, but it is also a way to increase efficiency and equity in aid work. Humanitarian future surely holds more and more focus on data in making decisions. So how does evidence-based humanitarian response work today?

The ultimate humanitarian traveling list

Information with purpose

The first step in making better-informed decisions is to collect and analyze data. However, this can be an expensive task, so it’s essential to gather only the necessary information. That’s why advocates of evidence-based humanitarian response highlight that you should only collect the data you can use. Further, you may want to look for information that you can use in diverse ways.

For example, when doing a monitoring and evaluation survey, ask the least possible questions. If the project is only working with people from a certain age bracket, you probably don’t need to ask for age information again. Collecting data is a straightforward example. When you apply it for a wide range of surveys, it can significantly reduce the amount of data you need to collect, store, and analyze.

Quality and transparency

Besides being purposeful, all data you use for humanitarian decisions should be of high quality and come from transparent sources. If there is no way to trace the data back to a source, then it’s probably of no use. At the same time, organizations need to share the data that they collect. This way, everyone can benefit from reducing costs.

It is still easy to fabricate data. And with the sheer amount of information that flows back and forth, this can be a very challenging part of working with humanitarian data. So, organizations need to take care of the data they collect. Otherwise, their evidence base could be severely skewed.

Data privacy

There are several ways in which data can contribute to improving humanitarian aid. Also, biometric data has quickly gained popularity among aid workers. One of the critical concerns for humanitarian data is privacy. Aid organizations collect a lot of sensitive data. For example, in conflict scenarios, exposing personal data may put the security of civilians at risk. Following the “do no harm” principle, humanitarians must ensure proper handling of all data collected from project participants.

Further, data privacy is also an ethical issue in the field. Many people today are well-informed regarding data collection, data privacy, and our rights. It is essential to continue informing project participants regarding their rights on sharing data, but also refusing to provide personal information.

Consent can sometimes be an issue. Particularly, when it comes to vulnerable populations, who don’t feel that they have a choice but to provide data to humanitarian organizations. An example is data collection in refugee camps.

Evidence-based decisions

Once organizations have the data and the ability to analyze it, they can make evidence-based decisions. This is crucial when trying to understand where to direct funding. At the same time, hard numbers can help to influence the funding decisions among donors. They may have an easier time increasing donations when they see where exactly the money will go and why it is necessary.

It is also a key consideration when making changes in a project. For example, emotions can run high when it comes to a long-term program. But if data shows that it isn’t working, it’s easier to justify canceling it.

Of course, any evidence-based decision requires some human input. Maybe the humanitarian future is to have artificial intelligence calculate decisions based on big data. But for now, data cannot predict every human aspect of a decision. So, organizations must strike a balance between evidence-based humanitarian response and the principle of humanity.

The REACH Initiative

More and more organizations are engaging in data-driven evidence-based decision making. REACH is one of the leading initiatives in this field of humanitarian future. The United Nations Operations Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT), IMPACT and ACTED created REACH to promote better information for humanitarian work.

Today, REACH provides data, timely information, and in-depth analysis for disaster, displacement, and crisis contexts. The goal of REACH is to help organizations improve coordination and make humanitarian response more efficient.

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