In July 2014 Save the Children’s Humanitarian Affairs Team (HAT) drafted a concept note for a research project on humanitarian effectiveness. With the Save the Children movement entering a new strategy cycle, the HAT had facilitated conversations within Save the Children UK about the future of the organisation’s humanitarian work and staff had focussed particularly on issues that in recent times have fallen under the banner of effectiveness: issues such as accountability, programme quality, and the participation of crisis-affected populations in humanitarian action. Meanwhile, the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) preparatory process was underway, and the humanitarian community was being encouraged to reflect on humanitarian effectiveness as one of the four designated topics of the summit.
A major theme in humanitarian discourse over the last 25 years, effectiveness has been a central concern for those seeking to reform humanitarian practice and governance. Research on effectiveness in the humanitarian sector has invariably taken the concept at face value, exploring what is effective, how to be more effective, and what the impact has been of individual initiatives to improve effectiveness. With effectiveness at the forefront of strategic discussions within Save the Children and across the humanitarian sector, we (the HAT) felt that there were important questions to be asked: why has effectiveness become an organising ideal for humanitarians? What is the character of the ‘humanitarian effectiveness agenda’ that has been constructed of initiatives to improve humanitarian performance? Why is effectiveness understood in the way it is, and what are the implications of all this?
We identified a set of assumptions that gives initiatives to enhance performance a ‘top-down’ quality – even those initiatives explicitly aimed at challenging inequalities in the humanitarian system. And, on account of the role effectiveness has come to play in definitions of success, we felt there was a need for investigation into the politics and epistemology of effectiveness, and the institutional arrangements that underpin the humanitarian effectiveness agenda. Our research started in earnest in October 2014, in partnership with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) at the University of Manchester.
In September 2015, the HAT and HCRI organised the conference A Quest for Humanitarian Effectiveness in Manchester attended by over 220 delegates. In association with the WHS and the International Humanitarian Studies Association, the conference provided an opportunity for humanitarian practitioners and policymakers, scholars and researchers, journalists and entrepreneurs to propose innovative research- and evidence-based alternatives to conventional approaches to improving humanitarian effectiveness and, in doing so, contribute to informing and influencing the outcomes of the WHS. Read the conference report.
The Echo Chamber and the Essays on Humanitarian Effectiveness are the culmination of the humanitarian effectiveness project.
We are grateful to colleagues from across Save the Children for valuable comments throughout the project; especially Rigmor Argren, Prisca Benelli, Paula Brennan, Richard Cobb, Jonathan Glennie, George Graham, Nick Hall, Alice Ladekarl, Caelum Moffatt, Gareth Owen, Hannah Reichardt and Bernice Romero.
We would like to thank the project’s advisory board whose experience, ideas and comments have contributed greatly to the project: Urvashi Aneja, Raymond Apthorpe, John Borton, Steve Darvill, Eleanor Davey, Antonio Donini, Paul Knox-Clarke, Jemilah Mahmood, Alice Obrecht and Bertrand Taithe.
We would also like to thank James Stacey, Lydia Johnson, Joe Devoir and Ashraf Khader for additional research, Louis Amis for support with copyediting and Jamie Herron for report design.
Project reports have been produced as discussion papers by the Humanitarian Affairs Team in partnership with the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute and do not reflect Save the Children policy.