Needles in a Haystack: An Analysis of Global South Roles in Humanitarian Knowledge Production

Publication language
Date published
01 Dec 2022
Research, reports and studies
Local capacity, Equity, Leadership and Decisionmaking
Glow Consultants, Humanitarian Advisory Group

This discussion paper is part of a series of interlinked investigations of the politics of humanitarian knowledge and what changes can help bring about more inclusive and equitable approaches to research, analysis and decision-making. The series is the product of a collaboration of research groups and individuals based in Asia and the Pacific, under the Humanitarian Horizons 2021-2024 research program. Working within the Power, People and Local Leadership stream of that program, we examine inequalities embedded in the humanitarian system, the conditions that perpetuate them, and avenues for change. In this series, we turn the lens onto knowledge production, using a range of methods that offer varying ways of conceptualising challenges and opportunities.

This discussion paper examines what is visible on the public record of humanitarian knowledge production, based on specific publications and how they cite their sources of information. It uses analysis of these publications’ content to reflect on trends in knowledge production in the humanitarian sector and what needs to change.

We found that, based on our case studies, the localisation agenda has only partially influenced the generation of shared knowledge in the humanitarian sector. At present, despite the efforts of some research institutions to make their own practices more inclusive, the conditions that prevail in the sector’s forums mean that the knowledge produced about and for these forums marginalises Global South actors. We also found that, even when Global South actors have been engaged in various ways, their visibility in the documents remains insufficient. In other words, recognition is lagging behind practice. Finally, we found that many people who are active in the humanitarian knowledge landscape are open to more equitable practices but are unsure how to achieve them in the face of material and structural challenges. By analysing current inequitable practices and the conditions that entrench them, we aim to support the sector’s move from self-awareness and critique to action that will help to localise humanitarian knowledge production.