What does effective humanitarian action look like?
How effective is humanitarian action?
How can humanitarian action be more effective?
These questions have received increased attention over the last twenty years partly because anxieties about the state of humanitarianism – about ‘politicisation’, ‘remoteness’ and powerlessness – have intensified. The rise of managerial culture, with its focus on efficiency, accountability, performance and results, has also compelled humanitarian agencies to give more importance to evaluation of their activities and measurement of outcomes. Indeed, efforts to elaborate a common agenda on humanitarian effectiveness have contributed to, and grown out of, the professionalisation and bureaucratisation of humanitarian aid. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that improving the effectiveness of humanitarian action has been treated primarily as a technocratic exercise.
This conference, jointly organised by the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute (HCRI) and Save the Children’s Humanitarian Affairs Team (HAT), will reflect on the evolution and consequence of existing approaches to understanding and improving humanitarian effectiveness. But it will also explore effects of humanitarian action (in historical and contemporary context) that tend not to be captured by the conventional discourse on effectiveness. Indeed, this conference will use the theme of humanitarian effectiveness to frame a critical and constructive interdisciplinary conversation on the politics and practice of humanitarian action. It will provide an opportunity for scholars, practitioners and policymakers to propose innovative research- and evidence-based alternatives to conventional approaches to improving humanitarian effectiveness. In doing so, it will contribute to informing and influencing the outcomes of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, for which humanitarian effectiveness is one of the four thematic foci. The conference will also offer a platform for furthering the study of humanitarianism and for strengthening the relationship between theories and practices of humanitarian action.