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Connecting the dots...

Philip Smith

By Philip Smith on 9 May 2017.

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ALNAP's 31 Annual Meeting Visual Notes


Philip Smith, from the Swedish Mission Council, was one of the participants at our 31st ALNAP Annual Meeting. The meeting discussions indeed inspire him beyond words! Why not listen to these sessions as you decipher his sketches?

A bit over two months ago today we were looking out over a frozen Mälaren in Stockholm. While a long way – both physically and culturally – from the humanitarian crises we were all trying to mitigate, the conversation was highly relevant and it was refreshing to meet so many like-minded people wrestling with similar questions. As a first time participant at the ALNAP’s Skills Building Day and annual meeting, I’ve taken away a lot: practical tools, ideas for evaluation approaches, contacts, and new challenges to tackle.

Swedish Mission Council (SMC) is a relatively small humanitarian actor compared to the humanitarian giants, so ALNAP’s Annual Meeting provided a valuable opportunity for us to connect to the ‘big picture’ and learn more about the current trends in humanitarian action. Some of this affirms us – like our participatory approaches, working with local actors, and trying to bridge the humanitarian and development sectors. Other trends present a challenge, such as considering cash-based approaches and improving our ability to anticipate crises.

I took a lot of notes, or rather (as a visual thinker) meandering sketch notes.

But if I try to connect the dots, the theme that sticks with me the most is how are we practically creating more room for local actors and the participation of affected communities. There was a recognition that despite a lot of talk about participation, we are still not responsive, we are not listening enough. Some suggested that donors should help ‘hold our feet to the fire’ to ensure that NGOs are listening to communities. Others appealed to reconnecting to the joy of relationships in our work, seeing CHS as a framework which supports us in doing this.

The conversations and presentations confirmed much of my experience from working in development (which no doubt biases how I understand humanitarian issues). If we focus more on the social aspects of humanitarian action – e.g. engaging local actors, resilience – then we must recognise the complexity of these issues and find ways of learning together with affected populations about what works. We need to review our planning approaches to allow more adaptive practice. We need greater innovation, but innovation must be contextual. Evaluation needs to be ongoing and integrated into action, utilisation-based; finding and exploring the relevant questions with local actors and communicating what we are learning in ways that are meaningful locally.

While we pride ourselves at SMC in our members and their network of local partners – their closeness to the ground, understanding of the cultural context and ongoing relationship with communities which give a valuable perspective on these challenges – we have a lot to learn! We look forward to further learning with you through ALNAP!

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