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Measuring the Impact of Humanitarian Aid

Summary of published paper1

A recent HPG Briefing Paper reports on research into how the humanitarian community measures and analyses the impact of humanitarian assistance. The study is based on a review of the published and grey literature within the humanitarian sector and more broadly, interviews with aid agency staff and two commissioned papers covering impact measurement in the food and nutrition and health sectors.

The review concludes that the humanitarian system has been poor at analysing impact though promising approaches are now starting to be developed. It states that a major constraint has been the lack of an accepted definition of impact within the humanitarian sector and that the definitions current within the development field may not fully capture the particular nature of humanitarian work. In particular, the concept of positive change is central in developmental definitions of impact, but in humanitarian aid the aim is often to avert negative change (for example to prevent famine). The review also points out that analysing the impact of a humanitarian intervention is not straightforward, particularly in the dynamic and chaotic environments of complex emergencies. The difficulties of the operating environment, the need to act quickly in situations of immediate crisis, an organisational culture that values action over analysis and the fact that there is little consensus around the core objectives of humanitarian aid - all make analysing impact difficult. Techniques that are standard in the social science community, such as the use of control groups, are not widely used, and humanitarian practitioners tend to lack the skills needed to gather and interpret information.

Key findings of the research are as follows;

Moving beyond the project level

Measuring impact: skills, capacity and resources

Measuring impact: science and participation

Indicators and objectives

Results-based management; potential and dangers

The way forward

The study suggests that sufficient and appropriate tools and methods exist to provide reliable analysis of the impact of humanitarian aid whatever the context. It is the appropriate use and adaptation of these tools to the particular context and constraints that is lacking as a consequence of insufficient investment in skills and capacity development within the humanitarian sector. The study suggests that addressing this gap would have implications beyond the improved practice of impact assessment but would also lead to clearer objectives for aid, more robust risk and needs assessments, better research into what works and what doesn't and greater emphasis on community participation.

Show footnotes

1Hofmann. Charles-Antoinne et al (2004): Measuring the impact of humanitarian aid. A review of current practice. HPG Research briefing, no 15, June 2004

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Measuring the Impact of Humanitarian Aid. Field Exchange 23, November 2004. p5. www.ennonline.net/fex/23/measuring

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