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Research and humanitarian aid: navigating the unpredictable, limiting the avoidable

Duncan McLean, Christine Jamet
Humanitarian Alternatives
Humanitarian Alternatives - Issue 17

In the world of international assistance, unsolicited visits by researchers – whether sent from the headquarters of the organisation or from other structures – have long generated conflicting perceptions. There are visits that are managed tactfully and have genuine benefits on the improvement of operations; others that are seemingly irrelevant and simply to be endured (falling more under “humanitarian tourism”) and then others still, the worst kind, that are all the more destructive as they compel teams to expend enormous energy in an attempt to limit the damage.

The misrepresentations that, in the humanitarian sector, may surround research-oriented activities increase the risk of falling into one of the caricatures described above. If they are experienced to varying degrees by a number of aid actors, both local and international, the example of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) offers a telling illustration of the underlying tensions between research and humanitarian aid which are not always easy to solve.

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