Mobilising social science for humanitarian action – Launch of online platform

8 February 2017

Launched today is the Social Science in Humanitarian Action: A Communication for Development Platform. This platform, developed in partnership between the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and UNICEF with support from Anthrologica, is an online resource which aims to establish networks of social scientists to rapidly provide insight and advice to emergency responses. 

Students make their way to school after heavy floods in Bangladesh, 2014

Bringing social science expertise to humanitarian emergencies 

‘As the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in 2016 recognised, more than 130 million people around the world now need humanitarian assistance in order to survive. Effective humanitarian action is a global priority as never before’, said Melissa Leach, IDS Director

‘We live in an age when, tragically, humanitarian emergencies are multiplying. Whether linked to health, disease and pandemics; to environmental disasters and climate change, or to conflict, political violence and refugee movements, the scale of human suffering is now greater than at any time since the Second World War’. 

The aim of the platform to bring social science knowledge in real-time into the heart of responses to humanitarian emergencies, and enabling them to be more sensitive to conditions on the ground and to the perspectives of affected communities, and thus more effective overall. Through accessible helpdesk responses, briefings and syntheses, it aims to provide the information humanitarian actors and agencies need when, how and in forms that suit them.

"This platform builds upon the World Health Summit commitment to strengthening participation and engagement with affected populations. It is an important tool that will allow UNICEF’s in-country response to be better tuned into community realities and to put communities at the core of our response” said Manuel Fontaine, Director, Emergency Operations, UNICEF New York.   

Lessons learnt from the Ebola epidemic

The lessons from the Ebola outbreak response in 2014-2015, underscored the critical need to understand deeper community dynamics and cultural practices and the greater attention needed to engage communities in planning and managing a humanitarian response. Similar lessons are being shared from experiences in dealing with other types of emergencies - be it protracted conflict or natural hazards. “It’s essential to listen to affected families, understand local practices and customs and provide contextualized advice for practical solutions,” said Ted Chaiban, Director of Programmes, UNICEF New York.

In response to the Ebola epidemic, IDS and partners showed how valuable a social science perspective can be, in a field dominated by medics and virologists and other natural scientists. IDS researchers and partners saw early on that the Ebola crisis was more than a medical emergency. The Ebola Response Anthropology Platform (ERAP) was a unique and timely initiative created in 2014 that delivered rapid, real-time advice to policy and practice around the unprecedented social and cultural challenges that the unfolding Ebola crisis posed.

ERAP was borne out of an urgent need for agencies to shape their response to the Ebola crisis with respect and understanding of social and cultural practices and structures in the affected areas. 

The Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform builds upon the lessons learnt from the humanitarian response during the Ebola outbreak. This platform will take the experience from successful implementation of ERAP and help connect with and build south-south network of expertise in these fields and provide ability to rapidly surge in case of a large scale humanitarian crisis. 

It will also create a vital space that will enable the international community to have ready access to knowledge and evidence on community realities that can help preparedness of and response to humanitarian situations. 

To join the network of experts, find out more or to send contributions, please email info@socialscienceinaction.org

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Photo credit: © UNICEF/UNI170476/Paul