On November 19th, the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI²) at Brown University's Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs brought together MPH, MPA, and Med School students to participate in a simulation-based workshop on humanitarian response. The workshop covered issues surrounding humanitarian decision-making, including an interactive simulation of health action and outbreak control in emergency settings, as well as key elements of conducting needs assessments.
The half-day workshop began with a lecture by Dr. Adam Levine, Director of HI², on Humanitarian Decision Making at the Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute. The lecture provided a brief overview of the different types of humanitarian emergencies and contexts as well as discussions on the different approaches to conducting needs assessments and the various key steps in preparing, monitoring, and responding to epidemics during humanitarian emergencies. The lecture was followed by two different simulation exercises where participants formed small groups to address a simulated outbreak control scenario and a rapid needs assessment situation. The workshop ended with a discussion and reflection of lessons learned.
“At Brown, we are fortunate to have access to some of the best professors and resources in the world. However, in the course of our regular academic pursuits, we often fail to bridge the gap between what's ‘in the textbook’ vs. what's ‘on the ground’ - a critical gap at that. When we first met Dr. Levine and Seth, we discussed simulating a workshop that gives us an idea of what challenges we may face in applying what we learn in real world situations. Hopefully, this was a good first step towards that. My biggest takeaway is the importance of evaluation and impact assessment and the current prominence (or lack thereof) in humanitarian response. Impact evaluation is a cornerstone of public policy and as an MPA student, this connected back with my discipline and helped add some more legitimacy to the need for evaluation.” - Shashank Sreedharan, MPA
“The entire workshop followed a logical flow and was designed to deliver core concepts and then put them into practice. Therefore, the workshop in its entirety can be seen as an important initial stepping stone. However, I personally enjoyed the two simulation exercises the most. Putting into practice what we were taught in the morning block both reinforced what was explained and gave me a chance to understand what the day to day activities are in a response effort. The biggest takeaway from an event like this for me was how simple certain types of quantitative and qualitative field work can be. This was a real eye opener for a person who worked in emergency planning to see the actual response side of emergency response and field work. This fit in very nicely with my current MPA course work as it gave a glimpse into what evaluative techniques can be used to gauge a response and how to actually carry out the evaluations. Since my personal aspirations are centered around the humanitarian space, this workshop fit in perfectly with my future goals.” - Omar Awan, MPA
“An efficient humanitarian response is a direct impact of high quality academic principles reflected by a very practical methodology in the field. Unfortunately, that is not widespread practice on the ground so far, and it is the role of top universities like Brown to enhance and improve the practice of humanitarian response. I have been involved in humanitarian response for five years in Syria. I felt we were in a trial of real fieldwork in the workshop. As an MPH student, I am interested in building a humanitarian practice upon academic principles, and basically changing the current humanitarian practice into a professional practice that rely on scientific and academic foundations.” - Khaled Almilaji, MPH
The Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI²) hopes to host more workshops like this in the future to allow opportunities for students of different disciplines to engage in humanitarian response issues. If you’re interested please check our website for any updates and join our listserv by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Elli Sawada
Student Assistant, HI²