26 October 2017

New article: Do no harm: A taxonomy of the challenges of humanitarian experimentation

In a new article, Senior Researcher, Katja Lindskov Jacobsen, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, and Fellow at Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Sean, Martin McDonald, focus on the harmful outcomes of humanitarian experimentation.

The changing global environment in the sense of violent conflicts, climate change, epidemics and famine have caused large waves of migration and an unprecedented number of refugees.  Consequently, humanitarian actors have a hard time keeping pace in their protection endeavors.

One response to this challenging situation has been to introduce new technological ‘solutions’ such as cargo drones, iris scanning, biometric data etc. Still, while technology may sometime help the aid industry in delivering protection to populations affected by disaster, it can also potentially give rise to harmful outcomes. Especially when the aid industry make use of ‘humanitarian experimentation’ – that is addressing disasters with immature or untested technology.

The use of untested approaches in uncertain environments provokes risks, which do not necessarily bolster but rather risk conflicting with humanitarian principles.  The objective of the article is to show how “humanitarian innovation” can be regarded as “experimental” in a problematic sense, although it is currently not recognized as such. Put differently, the tendency for humanitarianism to be experimental in the sense of allowing for and even encouraging the use of untested approaches cannot simply be regarded  as something belonging to a distant colonial past.

Read the full article here.