Making Operational Decisions in Humanitarian Response: A Literature Review

Campbell, L. and Knox Clarke, P.
Date published
30 Apr 2018
Research, reports and studies
Leadership and Decisionmaking
United Kingdom

During a crisis, humanitarian leaders must make a range of decisions including whether, when and how to intervene; how to address technical, logistical, political and security constraints; when and how to cease operations; and the list goes on. Many of these decisions are made in urgent circumstances, have life-saving implications, and take place in a context of uncertainty.

The importance of effective decision-making in operational humanitarian response has emerged as a theme in ALNAP’s previous work on humanitarian leadership and coordination. However, little academic attention has been given to this subject so far.

This literature review considers the context in which humanitarian leaders are asked to make decisions, explores the range of decision-making approaches which exist, and considers how effective these approaches might be in humanitarian environments. The paper draws from existing humanitarian literature and evaluations, and also from the wealth of experience which exists from the world of emergency management decision-making (including fires and public health emergencies). In doing so, it gathers existing knowledge, identifies gaps in understanding and proposes areas for future research.

ALNAP is undertaking a new piece of research to better understand how humanitarians can make effective decisions in situations of urgency and/or uncertainty. To find out more about the research and how you can get involved read the Infosheet.