The participation of people affected by crises in humanitarian response is increasingly recognised as a central element of both ethical and effective practice. Participation has gained growing attention in recent decades as practitioners and researchers have highlighted an imbalance of power in humanitarian programmes, and the negative effects of an absence of community involvement in the design and implementation of humanitarian response.
As in humanitarian operations, people and communities affected by crises should have a central place in humanitarian research activities. This reflects not only the enabling role of community involvement in research – trust and relationship-strengthening that allows for improved access to people and places – but also the relevance and validity of research and knowledge that results from a closer collaboration between communities, researchers and other important stakeholders in identifying knowledge gaps, appropriate research processes, and impactful pathways to change.
We encourage researchers to consider the important role of people and communities affected by humanitarian crises throughout the research cycle. This is reflected in various stages of the R2HC Research Ethics Toolkit, in which we prompt researchers to consider the extent of community consultation, the importance of community collaboration in data collection and the extent of risks and potential benefits to people and their communities following their participation in research.
Each of these considerations requires a strong understanding of crisis-affected contexts, the people living in such contexts, and the social, cultural, political and economic factors that shape their lives.
As the number of projects funded and supported by the R2HC grows, we continue to learn from the experiences of communities, researchers and humanitarian practitioners, particularly in relation to ways to foster closer community engagement and involvement in humanitarian health research.
Here we present a number of short case studies developed through a series of conversations between the R2HC and researchers who have conducted R2HC-funded research in various humanitarian settings. Each of these case studies illuminates unique examples of community engagement in various aspects of the research cycle.
We recognise some limitations to this initial contribution, prime among them that we have not captured the feedback and perspectives of people and communities affected by crises that were involved in these research projects. Other aspects of the research cycle, such as community involvement in the dissemination and uptake of research findings are under-represented here, though captured in other aspects of our work on research uptake and impact.
We hope that this participation case study series will serve as a starting point for further reflection and discussion between those funding and delivering humanitarian research, and the people and communities that we hope will ultimately benefit from such efforts.
One of the R2HC funders – the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) – provides guidance on empowering meaningful community engagement and involvement in global health research. Whilst not specifically focusing on research in humanitarian settings, the resources and tools referenced can equally be applied in other contexts. We encourage readers to review these tools.
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