Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Civilian-Military Coordination in Humanitarian Response: Expanding the Evidence Base

This collaborative project between Brown University’s Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI²) and the U.S. Naval War College’s Humanitarian Response Program (HRP), supported by a two-year grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, seeks to expand the evidence-base for effective civilian-military coordination in humanitarian response while developing new avenues for information sharing between humanitarian, military, and academic communities. Most importantly, it will leverage these new networks and expanded knowledge-base to inform the development of new military doctrine and UN guidelines around civil-military coordination in the humanitarian space.

This project builds off of a substantive amount of preliminary work that has occurred over the past year. In October 2016, the U.S. Naval War College’s HRP hosted the first civilian-military humanitarian response workshop, bringing together over 70 academic, military, UN and humanitarian NGO staff from around the world. This inaugural workshop laid the groundwork for effective communication between civilian and military disaster response communities through a series of working groups and panels focused on key challenges in coordination during humanitarian response. In August 2017, a follow-up workshop hosted at Brown University by the HI² in coordination with the U.S. Naval War College’s HRP brought together over 100 selected participants, divided this time into eight topical working groups, including 1) Military Capability Integration 2) Pandemics 3) Global Health Engagement 4) Urbanization 5) Information Communication and Remote Sensing Technologies 6) International Humanitarian Law 7) Gender and Vulnerable Populations and 8) Climate Change. These working groups each developed a long list of research and policy gaps that need to be filled in order to allow for effective coordination between military and civilian actors during future humanitarian emergencies.

Taking advantage of the substantive discussions and information sharing that occurred during these two recent workshops, this project will carry the momentum forward in several specific ways. First, the output of each working group will be formatted into a synthesis report that highlights opportunities for professional education, training, and development for key decision makers to identify the best practices associated with overcoming cultural, policy, technical, and legal challenges for civilian-military coordination and information sharing. Using these identified challenges and opportunities for civilian-military coordination as a framework, project staff under this grant will support working groups to develop comprehensive research agendas that prioritizes and puts forth key research questions designed to advance civilian-military coordination, where appropriate, in humanitarian response. Project staff will then conduct a series of research studies to answer the most pressing questions developed by the working groups, utilizing a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods including review of existing academic literature and UN and military policies; key informant interviews with military, humanitarian, and local leaders around the globe; focus group discussions with different disaster response communities including local disaster affected communities; and quantitative surveys. The results of these research studies will be brought back to the working groups at a follow-up research symposium for review and contextualization, and then disseminated through academic and policy channels, with the eventual goal of impacting US and foreign military guidance on civilian-military coordination in humanitarian response, as well as United Nations and international NGO guidelines.