Building Humanitarian Studies: High scores for the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies in external review of HUMPOL

The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies (NCHS) was founded in 2012 by researchers from CMI, NUPI and PRIO. NCHS set out to produce high quality, policy relevant research on humanitarian issues; to establish a critical mass of Norwegian scholars working on humanitarian issues and to link these up with international networks; and to serve as a key partner for discussion and analysis for humanitarian actors. In short: NCHS was founded to build the field of humanitarian studies in Norway.

As we noted in our very first blog post: “Humanitarian principles are central to overall Norwegian foreign policy, and humanitarian donorship is central to the Norwegian national identity.” Norwegian governments have over time been important donors to the humanitarian field, and Norway hosts a myriad of NGOs self-defining as “humanitarian”, many of which are also internationally well-renowned. Despite this, there has been a dearth of critical public conversation about the role and place of humanitarian aid and Norwegian humanitarian governance. With NCHS, we set out to change this.

Three and a half years after this first blog post, what have we achieved?

NCHS has organized a range of events over the last few years, engaging humanitarian practitioners, researchers and policy makers in exchanges about issues ranging from humanitarian innovation, new technologies, notably drones, for emergency assistance, protection of civilians, humanitarian issues related to the “refugee crisis”, from the Mediterranean to Norway’s border with Russia, urban violence to broader normative debates about R2P (Responsibility to Protect) and the role of the UN. In many of these events we have collaborated with key actors in the humanitarian field, including the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Norwegian Red Cross, Doctors without Borders Norway, Save the Children Norway, the Norwegian Peoples Aid, and the Norwegian Church Aid. Additionally, we have published well over 60 blog posts relating to our research.

With respect to our overarching objective of building a field of critical humanitarian studies in Norway, an external review* of the NORGLOBAL and Humanitarian Policy research activity (HUMPOL) of the Norwegian Research Council by Joost Herman, Sara Pantuliano and Jens Stilhoff Sorensen, suggests that we are well on our way to achieve our goals.

NCHS received excellent scores and encouraging feedback for its continued work. The review states that

  • The Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies stands out as a very tangible result of the HUMPOL programme”.
  • Founded by CMI, PRIO and NUPI, financed from the existing HUMPOL grant-budget awarded to the Protection of Civilians project (with some additions from other sources), Dr. Sandvik and her team have striven to create a concrete tool for inter-institutional, interdisciplinary, policy relevant knowledge build-up amongst Norwegian researchers and their partners, also meant to be a platform for informing public debate.”
  • It further observes that “the Norwegian Centre for Humanitarian Studies has become an umbrella for all four projects funded by the HUMPOL programme, stimulating cross-project and cross-disciplinary fertilisation and creating an interface between Academia, policy makers and practitioners and the society at large.”
  • NCHS is also commended for having become a hub for research projects on humanitarianism more broadly; NCHS is now home to a total of ten projects.

As the network of researchers involved in NCHS continue work on these projects, and elaborate new collaborative research projects and apply for funding in Norway and internationally, we want to emphasize that it is more crucial than ever to build a consistent research environment with in-depth knowledge of the humanitarian field. As humanitarian action becomes ever more intertwined with international politics, and involve increasing allocation from the public purse, in-depth knowledge about the humanitarian sector and about donor policies and their impact is not only necessary to improve humanitarian action but is also a precondition for any meaningful debate about the relationship between aid and democratic accountability. Yet building humanitarian studies as a field takes time, and we therefore welcome this encouraging review, and look forward to continuing to pursue our mission.

*Note: The review was conducted in April 2016.