Evidence-based decision-making is a key issue in the international community. ALNAP’s annual meeting this year focused on evidence and knowledge in humanitarian action, addressing questions such as:
- Who is turning evidence into action?
- How can you make evidence-based decisions?
- What if there is no evidence?
These discussions are not new and the sector repeatedly asserts how important evidence-based decision-making is in humanitarian action. However, evidence is just one among many considerations in the processes that result in funding allocation. Other factors also come into play, including: domestic legislation, budgetary timelines and volumes, policy commitments, capacity, historic cultural and political relationships, specialisation and comparative advantage, and domestic political affairs.
Recent papers, such as ACAPS Operational Learning Paper with the Feinstein International Centre from Tufts University ‘The Use of Evidence in Humanitarian Decision Making – ACAPS Operational Learning Paper’ and ODI’s ‘Promoting evidence-based decision-making in development agencies’ support the need for yet further progress in this field.
In 2010, GHA reported on the evidence used for decision making by humanitarian donors in response to the crisis in South Sudan. At that time we found that: ‘Better evidence of the scale and severity of humanitarian needs and greater transparency in information exchange about them is crucial to promote more equitable funding decisions’. The flow chart below shows the evidence and influences in donor decision-making processes.
Figure 1: Evidence and influences in donor decision-making processes
At the annual ALNAP meeting, Judith Randel, Executive Director of Development Initiatives, and Annette Were Munabi, Policy Analyst with Development Initiative’s partner organisation Development and Research Training (DRT) in Uganda, presented on how to encourage decision-makers to use evidence, and data in particular.
Judith outlined how data, evidence and access to information are used to make decisions about responses to humanitarian crises. Annette shared her experience of programmes in northern Uganda, discussing what information and resources are available on the ground, how this is communicated and the implications that access to information has had on the humanitarian response.
The good news is that the quality and availability of information on risk, vulnerability and humanitarian needs is improving. More to the point, this information is being used by some donors to systematically influence decision making. In their presentation, Judith and Annette presented information on how decisions are informed and made in Sweden, the Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), the EC and the United State Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), and how this affects outcomes.
Annette has been investigating the information that local officials in northern Uganda have, what humanitarian needs exist, who the key actors are and the roles they play. In 2010, only 4.8% of Uganda’s total aid ($1.7bn) was earmarked for humanitarian response, despite it being the 23rd largest recipient of official aid. The types of disaster faced by this country include displacement, famine, epidemics, livestock, and crop diseases and floods.
The Ugandan Government has played a major role in coordinating humanitarian actors in response to these emergencies and has been a channel of aid delivery itself. Nonetheless, the processes, systems and institutions of both government and donors that exist are rigid and require bureaucratic procedures to navigate. In northern Uganda, the need to observe protocol can affect the responsiveness of actors, and some systems are subject to manipulation and abuse.
Figure 2: Summary of Ugandan Country Profile
The flow of information to and from affected communities in northern Uganda is illustrated in this chart, showing that the centralised decision making by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) in-charge of coordination of humanitarian action has minimum participation with the affected communities.
Figure 3: Flow of information to and from affected communities in northern Uganda
A lack of information has also led to difficulties in coordination and response. For instance, in Uganda the national planning statistics are highly aggregated and so cannot be used to accurately reflect issues at smaller geographical units. In addition, the sectoral and community data is not standardised and inconsistent due to its low levels of precision. Though there is a global understanding that beneficiaries themselves represent a source of information, this has not filtered down to the national or local decision-making levels.
This is particularly important when assessing needs so as to correctly design, target and implement humanitarian responses. As the Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD) principles state the funding of humanitarian action should be in proportion to needs (GHD Principle 6) and should not adversely affect the meeting of needs in ongoing crises (GHD Principle 11). To decide how funds are allocated, data from needs assessments must be comparable and available to all. Similarly, all actors need to know what resources are available locally within the affected community, from their own budgets and in others’ budgets.
So, what does best practice in humanitarian information management look like? Suggested activities for key actors to achieve more effective decision-making include:
- strengthening community-based information systems;
- ensuring the feedback loop is closed;
- assisting key actors in adopting the open data initiative;
- capacity building on using data;
- incorporating evidence;
- involving beneficiaries in the design, delivery and monitoring of responses to identify root causes.
Obstacles to achieving these outcomes include the fact that the demand from national and local level decision-makers for evidence remains low. This is coupled with low investment in data, evidence and information systems. To overcome these barriers, government needs to provide a basic minimum package of information that can be shared by all.
Judith and Annette shared examples of how donors and government officials in crisis-affected countries are reaching decisions and what information is available to them. The full presentation will be available soon and the video is available on the ALNAP website.
 South Sudan Report – Conclusion