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Insufficient Evidence? The Quality and Use of Evidence in Humanitarian Action

2014 — By Paul Knox Clarke, James Darcy

This paper (and the ALNAP meeting on which it is based) is underpinned by the sense that ‘at present, humanitarian decisions are often based on poor information’ (DFID, 2012: 5) and are ‘anecdote, rather than evidence, driven’ (Mazurana et al., 2011: 1). Even when evidence is available, decisions can still appear to be driven by personal conviction, or by political or fundraising considerations. So it is important that the evidence available be of the highest quality, but it is equally important that this evidence should be used by decision-makers. Recurrent collective failures to respond decisively in the face of strong evidence of impending crises (notably from famine early warning systems in sub-Saharan Africa) confirm that generating such evidence is only one part of the challenge. The same is true for evidence from past experience: one recurrent theme of evaluations is that the international system and its individual organisations struggle to learn the lessons of the past and apply its evidence to today’s humanitarian practice (Sandison, 2006; Hallam, 2011).