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Using Evidence in Humanitarian Action

Using Evidence in Humanitarian Action

Please note this course has been postponed and will be offered at a later date


Please note this course has been postponed and will be offered at a later date.

The COVID-19 pandemic and some of the responses to it have caused enormous human suffering, upended global markets, transport and trade and affected the lives and livelihoods of over a billion people across the world.  Unprecedented climatic events have uprooted the lives of hundreds of millions of more, while armed conflict and conflict induced famine and food insecurity affect large populations.  The response to these crises by humanitarian and development actors requires that their decisions are shaped by rigorous and reliable evidence. Increasingly there is pressure to demonstrate that understanding of and responses to such crises are well founded and evidence-based. Yet such humanitarian crises make gathering, understanding evidence very difficult and, at best, we are largely working with “good enough” evidence.

How do we make sense of the challenges and the opportunities of evidence-informed response to some of the most complex crises facing our people and planet? What are the categories of evidence in humanitarian action? Where does this evidence come from and how it is used? What are the challenges related to evidence?

In this course, experts from the Fletcher School, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, the Feinstein International Center and the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University come together to focus on the state of evidence applied to some of the world’s most pressing issues. Together, we’ll explore humanitarian information systems, the different kinds of evidence collected, and applications of evidence in these crises.  

Working with internationally recognized experts in each topic, we’ll look at climate events, famine and extreme food insecurity, the persistence of acute malnutrition in Africa’s drylands, sex and gender in zoonotic spillover, including Covid-19, and localization of humanitarian action.

This course is designed for mid- to senior-level international affairs, humanitarian and development professionals from the public, private and non-profit sectors.  It combines intense, interactive lessons from global experts with a flexible learning format to inform and equip leaders for the post-pandemic landscape. Professor Mazurana and her teaching team will work closely with participants to achieve their professional goals for the course.


Skills & Professional Benefits

Acquire the skills to analyze diagnostic evidence, the description, analysis and forecasting of the crisis or the drivers of crisis. 

Learn to examine evaluative evidence and the “what works?” questions: What is the impact of the intervention? Which intervention has greater impact? What are the negative or unexpected impacts of interventions as well?

Expand your network of professionals working in humanitarian action.

Certificate of completion awarded.

Course Fee: $960 | Fletcher and Tufts Alumni: $720

Dyan Mazurana

Research Professor, The Fletcher School and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy
Research Director, Feinstein International Center
Co-Director of the Program on Gender Perspectives in International Studies

Dr. Mazurana’s areas of focus include women’s and children’s rights during armed conflict and post conflict, serious crimes and violations committed during armed conflict and their effects on victims and civilian populations, armed opposition groups and remedy and reparation. She works with a number of governments, U.N. agencies and NGOs on these areas and has carried out research in Afghanistan, the Balkans, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and Nepal. Mazurana has published over 100 scholarly and policy books and articles and is a a research fellow at the World Peace Foundation. See her full bio here.

Live Sessions

Session 1: Climate evidence and humanitarian early action

Date: TBD

Featured Expert: Erin Coughlan de Perez, PhD

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. With extreme events increasing in frequency and magnitude in many places, the humanitarian system recognizes the need to adapt and improve programming to act faster and more effectively. Climate and weather models provide forecasts of extreme events that can be used as diagnostic evidence to anticipate disasters. To make use of this information, the Anticipation Agenda is growing. The year 2020 saw several major Forecast-based Financing disbursements by the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, the United Nations, and several NGO networks.

This session will explore how climate change is impacting the humanitarian sector today and introduce projections of how this will evolve in the future. We will discuss how anticipatory action, early warning systems, and Forecast-based Financing can make use of diagnostic evidence to prepare for disasters before they happen, and we will explore the major mechanisms for this available today. This will include a theoretical and a real-world simulation of the use of a forecast to take humanitarian action. Finally, we will critique evaluative evidence available for the effectiveness of early action and suggest ways in which this could be improved.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this class students will be familiar with:

  1. How changing climate extremes can result in humanitarian outcomes
  2. How to overlay vulnerability, exposure, and hazard information to assess geographical patterns in risk
  3. Different models for early warning early action systems

Session 2: Evidence on famine and food insecurity

Date: TBD

Featured Expert: Daniel Maxwell, PhD

Great progress has been made in assessing, analyzing and predicting food security crises and famine. But information and evidence are only half of the issue—the other half is timely action to prevent, mitigate and respond to these crises before they destroy human life and livelihoods. This session will focus on the evidence side of this equation, but with clear linkages to action suggested.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this session students will be familiar with:

  1. The contemporary means of evidence gathering, analysis and classification of contemporary food security crises, including but not limited to famine.  This includes an introduction to food security, nutrition, mortality and health evidence used to assess and classify famine and contemporary crises of lesser severity
  2. Some of the critiques of our current system or suggested means of improving and expanding it

Session 3: Evidence on understanding and addressing persistent acute malnutrition in Africa’s drylands

Date: TBD

Featured Experts: Helen Young, PhD, and Anastasia Marshak, PhD

In Africa’s drylands, the prevalence of global acute malnutrition (GAM) regularly exceeds the emergency threshold of 15% GAM despite ongoing humanitarian interventions. A recent adaptation of the UNICEF conceptual framework of the causes of malnutrition highlights that programs and policies need to better understand and emphasize the role of basic and interlinked systemic drivers of acute malnutrition: environment and seasonality, systems and institutions, and livelihood systems. This session will focus on how a greater understanding of the evidence base on these drivers can lead to more impactful and sustainable programming and policy.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this class students will be familiar with:

  1. The problem of persistent acute malnutrition.
  2. The amended conceptual framework for addressing persistent acute malnutrition, specifically the basic causes – environment and seasonality, systems and institutions, and livelihood systems – and how these are interlinked with each other and the more immediate and underlying drivers.
  3. A case study from Chad illustrating the value of a more evidence driven approach pulling on the conceptual framework to understand and program for the multi-temporal and multi-sectoral drivers of acute malnutrition.

Session 4: Do sex and gender matter in prevention and response strategies to emerging infectious disease pandemics: evidence that links risks, impacts and consequences to sex and gender in COVID-19 and other outbreaks

Date: TBD

Featured Expert: Hellen Amuguni, DVM, PhD

Emergence of data from the COVID-19 pandemic and other previous disease outbreaks suggests differences in how males, females and non-binary individuals are impacted both clinically, socially, and economically and highlights a need to study the drivers and consequences of these differences. Recognizing the extent to which disease outbreaks affect different genders is vital to understanding the primary and secondary effects of a health emergency, and for creating effective, equitable policies and interventions. Experience from past outbreaks shows the significance of integrating a gender analysis lens into preparedness and response efforts. This session will use a case study of the sex and gender related trends of the COVID-19 pandemic and discuss the gender based risk, impacts and consequences

Learning objectives: At the end of this class students will be able to:

  1. Recognize gender gaps and barriers in current data related to infectious diseases and  identify opportunities to address those gaps.
  2. Analyze how gender impacts (risks and consequences) and is impacted by emerging disease threats and spillover.
  3. Recognize opportunities for incorporating gender principles into all capacity building efforts to reduce risk of pandemics, and community engagement efforts from planning stage onwards

Session 5: Localization of humanitarian action: who, when, why and how?

Date: TBD

Featured Expert: Kimberly Howe, PhD

Since the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, “localization” as a concept has entered the humanitarian spotlight as international organizations and donors are called upon to question the ways in which they engage with local actors in crisis settings. While generally viewed as a positive trend, the localization agenda itself is ambiguous and at times, controversial. How is localization of humanitarian action defined, and by whom? What assumptions underpin the concept, and what evidence exists for these assumptions? How do organizations implement localization policy and practice, and how is progress measured? Furthermore, the construct itself exists within the thorny and interwoven systems of power, privilege, colonialism and racism. This session will rely on evidence to unpack these various dimensions of localization as a construct, and to consider the efficacy of various models in several humanitarian settings. 

Learning Objectives:  At the end of this course, students will be familiar with:

  1. The definitions and assumptions underpinning the localization agenda, and barriers that local and international organizations face in pursuing localization.
  2. The ethical considerations of localization, including intricacies of power, from diverse perspectives.
  3. The frameworks that exist for measuring progress towards localization.
  4. Evidence from several humanitarian crises (Syria, Indonesia, Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia) that reveals the complexities and successes of various approaches to localization.