Conference Themes

We have divided our main theme ‘Humanitarianism in Changing Climates‘  into 6 sub-themes for panel submissions:

1) Changes in refugees, displacement, and migration policy and crises
2) Protracted crises, sustainable responses? Climate change, conflict, and development
3) The digital transformation in humanitarian crises and humanitarianism
4) Civic space, advocacy, and locally-led humanitarian response
5) Humanitarian studies and education
6) From Evidence to Action: Advancing Health in Humanitarian Contexts

1. Changes in refugees, displacement, and migration policy and crises
This theme focuses on changes in migration, forced displacement and refugee movements, and the events, crises or policies that influence these changes. The theme includes the increasing range and complexity of causes and drivers of migration; including conflict, climate change (and associated floods, drought, or wildfires), earthquakes, and the interaction between them. Existing displaced or migrant populations may be subjected to environmental hazards, or to movement restrictions due to COVID-19 or other diseases, or because of Western policies of containment. What are the risks of migration for (renewed) complex crises and how can humanitarian responses become more appropriate to the wellbeing and future of migrants?

Humanitarian, refugee and migration policies are changing, at the global, regional and national levels. New laws and policies might grant rights and access to migrants and refugees, but also might impose limitations on access, status, and pathways to permanent residency. Domestic politics, democratic backsliding, COVID-19-related restrictions, and rising inequality affect these processes and policies, often producing high costs to migrants themselves. While most refugee movements happen within the global south, the migration studies and policies are often eurocentric and focus on migration to Europe or the US and how to ebb these flows. Western policies for containment and deterrence have become increasingly seen to violate human rights and refugee law. How can the values of humanitarianism be upheld and fostered in these contexts? In addition, while new displacements continue, so do the number of protracted displaced or refugee populations who live in precarious and exploitative conditions. How relevant are the global refugee and migration compacts and how do we analyse their effect?

Migration and settlement to urban areas is accelerating in many African and Asian contexts, requiring new approaches, such as area-based or settlement approaches to coordination, and public-private partnerships. For people on the move, social media and digital technologies have become important for information and communication. We welcome panels analysing their effects.

This thematic stream invites panels that examine the complexity of migration drivers and their interaction, the role of humanitarians in challenging migration and asylum policies. We invite panels on the challenges that refugees, migrants and host communities face, their lived experience, social cohesion between the host and refugees, how they navigate risks and opportunities on their journey as well as in protracted displacement. We also invite panels that present findings on the impacts of policies designed to manage migration and refugee flows, and their implications for providing protection and assistance. We encourage panels that focus on regional as well as global realities.

2. Protracted crises, sustainable responses? Climate change, conflict, and development

This theme unpacks the relationship between protracted crises and sustainable responses. Traditional approaches and understandings of humanitarianism emphasise the emergency and abnormal nature of emergency. In this view, humanitarian crises are disruptions in stable trajectories; short-term problems to be addressed with urgent solutions. This theme considers how humanitarianism intersects and overlaps with other policy areas–development, climate, health, food security, peace etc.–as well as how humanitarian organisations (both informal and formal) interact with states, international organisations, non-state armed groups, private businesses and other actors in these complex policy spaces. It considers where humanitarianism intersects with ‘wicked problems’ of the contemporary world, including but not limited to climate change, pandemics, economic inequality, democratic backsliding, the rise of illiberalism, and use of authoritarian practices. It also considers whether Sustainable Development Goals are achievable in conflict-affected and fragile areas.

This conference theme welcomes panels that provide new insights into the relation between conflict, development, climate change, health and humanitarianism asking and answering questions such as: How is achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals impacted by conflict? What role can nexus thinking -double and triple humanitarian, development and peace- play to address these crises? How does humanitarian assistance impact conflict dynamics, such as the legitimation of warring parties, and how does this relate to principled humanitarian action? How do conflict dynamics affect responses to infectious disease outbreaks, such as cholera or COVID-19, and what is the impact on overall human security? How has addressing emergency health concerns impacted achievement of development goals? We also welcome panels that examine climate change’s role in the development of and responses to humanitarian crises, as well as the environmental effects of humanitarian responses and practices. What is the environmental footprint of humanitarian responses? Can humanitarian programming address climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience? We invite panels that examine topics such as anticipatory planning, disaster risk reduction, project life cycles, and sustainability. As across all themes, lived experiences are welcome.

3. The digital transformation in humanitarian crises and humanitarianism
Digital humanitarianism continues to expand. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the adoption of remote digital technologies became almost the norm, and the war in Ukraine has seen the use of digital technologies increase as a strategy of war, as well as in humanitarian response. In war, shutting down networks, spreading misinformation through social media, or direct targeting of activists’ accounts, have become new strategies. Humanitarian digital response has shifted from the use of single technologies to an entire digital infrastructure, ranging from biometrics, to blockchain, mobile assessments and mapping, drones, cash transfers (FinTech), the use of artificial intelligence to the management of a supply chain that involves a range of private sector, government and retail institutions.
Digitalisation changes the ways that humanitarians interact with those affected by crisis, our understanding of crisis, how data is managed and shared, and how individuals and communities resist and reshape humanitarian response. Digital humanitarianism can have advantages, such as access, speed and accountability but they also pose a number of risks. First, when digital technologies are used, or shut down, as a weapon of war, does International Humanitarian Law apply and how? Are digital civilian data a protected object in war? The use of digital technologies in general, raises questions about privacy and data security, and vulnerability to cyber-attacks, and about the consequences of attacks or manipulation of centralised digital databases. Second, lack of digital skills or connectivity may lead to exclusions, and linking digital identities and assistance can provide scope for surveillance and oppression. Third, how does the digital transformation affect humanitarian principles? How do digital technologies create or bridge the distance between aid providers and people affected and what are their effects on empathy (and humanity?). The use of algorithms influences impartiality (how to challenge the algorithm that has determined someone does not receive aid?). Finally, increased private sector involvement raises questions around upholding the principle of humanity, as it may affect impartiality, independence and neutrality.

We welcome panels from academics and practitioners on any aspect of the digital transformation. On the nature of digital infrastructure, its effect on changing relationships between humanitarian actors and and crisis-affected populations, and on the emergent risks. This may include implications for effects on humanitarian principles but also wider political and economic effects. Digital warfare and whether and how to limit its effect on civilians is another area of interest under this theme. Finally, we welcome contributions on cross-cutting perspectives such as the implications for accountability, ethics, humanitarian governance, localisation, and decolonisation. Perspectives based on practice, scholarship, and lived experience are all welcome.

4. Civic space, advocacy, and locally-led humanitarian response

Actors working in civic space, in their many shapes and forms, play a key role in humanitarian crises and response. Concerns over shrinking space for civil society actors threatens this role, and is a dimension of the relationship between humanitarian crisis and politics. Forces of authoritarianism, racism, misogyny, economic inequality and other forms of discrimination and injustice shape civic space – but these forces are met by local and transnational forms of resistance and advocacy. More broadly, advocacy for better humanitarian outcomes, more localised response, and/or better models to fund humanitarian action is overlaid with advocacy for political solutions that target ‘root causes’ of crises. Policy attention to localisation–the commitment made during the World Humanitarian Summit for humanitarian assistance to be “as local as possible, as international as necessary”–has prompted reflection on the practices and processes of the global humanitarian system and renewed research interest in better understanding the dynamics of humanitarian response from the ground-up.

We welcome panels on civil society, including non-governmental organisations, faith-based groups, and informal networks, both globally and in specific contexts. We also welcome work that engages with questions of political regimes and humanitarian or civic space. Papers and panels engaging with different aspects of advocacy, in particular the political dimensions of advocacy, locally-led advocacy, and proposed ‘disruptions’ to the humanitarian sector, are encouraged. We encourage submissions on the dynamics of local humanitarian response that investigate how local, national, regional and global actors interact in different humanitarian settings; the types and impacts of South-South coordination, cooperation and networking; the role of host countries in either enabling or hindering localisation; and whether and how localisation advances or impedes social inclusion in humanitarian response. This theme welcomes perspectives based on lived experience.

5. Humanitarian studies and education

The humanitarian studies scholarship is growing. Trainings, education, and research aiming to better understand crises – and better prepare people for how to respond to them – are present around the world but not without their own shortcomings related to global power inequalities. Trainings and degrees are offered by humanitarian agencies, specialist training providers, and universities, and though guided by standards, there is no singular agreed concept of what it means to hold a humanitarian studies degree or what qualifies someone to be a humanitarian worker. Given the breadth of skills and competencies required in humanitarian response, humanitarian educational programming is multi-disciplinary, spanning (global) public health, engineering, supply chains and logistics, data science and programming, the humanities and social sciences, (global) public policy, environmental sciences among others. What are the synergies among this programming? How do we craft a meaningful curriculum? What is the role of formal education? Moreover, the desirability for such standardisation is debated. The professionalisation debate has been ongoing for some time, but the era of digital education brings new considerations. Alongside education and training-related questions, the role of research is a continuing puzzle. Research from many disciplines on humanitarian crises aims to make an impact, but the gap between research, policy, and action is ever present.

We solicit contributions taking critical perspectives on humanitarian studies, including the impact of humanitarian research and practice, the relationship between coloniality and humanitarian studies, and the professionalisation of humanitarian assistance. We particularly welcome contributions from those with lived experience.

6. From Evidence to Action: Advancing Health in Humanitarian Contexts

Humanitarian emergencies present complex health challenges that require immediate and effective responses. Although there has been some improvement in addressing health issues in humanitarian settings, there are still large gaps. In order to improve health outcomes and create resilient and sustainable health systems in humanitarian contexts, it is essential to bridge the gap between evidence and practice.

Over the last decade, there has been an increase in the amount of research and available funding for health research in humanitarian crises with some dedicated funding streams like R2HC, however, there hasn’t been a proportional shift in the use of that evidence to inform humanitarian health programming or decision-making. While many humanitarian agencies and response organisations have recognised the importance of evidence-based programming approaches and invest in research, evaluation and learning, there are recognised challenges in ensuring that research evidence is applied to policy change and implementation, especially for practitioners at the ‘front line’. This gap needs to be addressed if we are to address the complex health challenges faced by communities in crisis.

The goal of this theme is to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders including healthcare professionals, researchers, policy makers, humanitarian practitioners, funders to create a platform where researchers will be able to showcase their research and practitioners to show not only how they used evidence-based approached but also how they adapted them to fit in their context.

We welcome panels that cover but not limited to: the role of research and evidence in improving health in humanitarian settings; innovations in healthcare delivery and technology; building the capacity of health workers in crisis-affected areas; the role of community engagement in improving health in humanitarian settings; effective engagement approaches with policy stakeholders in research e.g. governments; the role of humanitarian knowledge/evidence brokers- who they are, how they engage in health research; engagement of humanitarian practitioners in health research including capacity building approaches and participatory methodologies; research methods/designs which enhance health research and policy relevance; the importance of Southern/local/contextual expertise for enhancing health research use and uptake; communicating health research to humanitarian networks, platforms and COPs; the role of community advisory boards and other community mechanisms that lead to evidence use; and WASH programming contributions to health promotion COVID-19 and humanitarian settings.