Helping technology experts understand humanitarian organizations

Guidance for Collaborating with Formal Humanitarian Organizations

Guidance for Collaborating with Formal Humanitarian Organizations

The Digital Humanitarian Network has just published an excellent document that can help improve, how the volunteer and tech community and international aid organizations work together.

While many documents have been written that try to explain things like crisis mapping or social media to non-profit organizations, this is the first time that someone has produced guidance for technology experts who want to understand the humanitarian world.

An introduction for the tech community

Guidance for Collaborating with Formal Humanitarian Organizations” gives a very basic overview of what formal humanitarian organizations are and how disaster response works in practice. It then goes into the different phases of disaster response and explains how to collaborate during the different phases of an emergency response operation. This is followed by a list of common challenges that occur when the volunteer and tech community (V&TC) works with NGOs, the UN or the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, followed by recommendations how to overcome these.

The last part of the document is a list of previous deployments where V&TCs have successfully worked with large humanitarian organizations.

The document is pretty straightforward and I’d encourage all organizations that are interested in working with the volunteer and tech community to put it on their own websites (the document is licensed under creative commons license).

When to engage

There is only one part in the document that I find a little confusing. While the authors rightfully highlight the importance of building relationships prior to an emergency and emphasise that disaster responders are normally too busy to build new relationships in an emergency, they later say that “many internal champions within the humanitarian sector view times of crisis as ‘moments for innovation’. During a crisis, many traditional entities are more open to external partnerships, providing V&TCs with an opportunity to participate more directly with disaster response.”

That is not my experience and I would stick to making sure that you have your relationships in place and understand how you can add value, before the next big disaster. Aside from this tiny bit of criticism I think that the “Guidance for Collaborating with Formal Humanitarian Organizations” is a very helpful document that can make it easier for tech experts and disaster responders to work together better.

Last year, the authors already published a document that looked at the issue from the other point of view and explained to humanitarian organizations how to work with the volunteer and tech community .

  • Hi Timo,

    Yes, the partnership vs relationship topic is a bit tricky to articulate without spending a lot of time on it. I see it as building relationships (sometimes just at the person level rather than at the organization level) BEFORE an emergency. Then during emergencies, organizations may be more willing to engage in a 'partnership' with that person or organization.

    Traditionally, during emergencies, organizations can make it difficult to form partnerships (challenges of getting MOUs setup, managers not understanding possibilities, legal teams, etc). But, as Charles Duhigg notes that during turmoil organizational habits become malleable. So, it can be during a crisis that organizations become more flexible and willing to form new partnerships to get things done.

    Perhaps my blog "Partnerships + Crisis = Innovation and Change" provides a bit more clarity? http://blog.veritythink.com/post/56773196539/part

    Andrej