Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Humanitarian Civil-Military Information-Sharing in Complex Emergencies

Realities, Strategies, and Risks

Rubble after airstrike

The scholarly literature on civil-military coordination mainly stands silent on understandings of the socio-political and operational challenges of information sharing. To address the topic of information sharing between civil-military actors in humanitarian response in complex emergencies, the available scholarly works have been divided into three distinct areas. The first focuses on standards and policy guidelines, with limited exploration of operational realities or the contexts in which information sharing takes place. A second discusses principled frameworks for the regulation of information sharing and the protection of aid recipients’ personal data. This area of the literature is marked by a distinctly normative framing. Finally, the last encompasses debates on the use of new technologies in humanitarian action, and methods to improve information management systems and data-sharing platforms.

While these three areas of the literature make valuable contributions, there is limited evidence upon which to judge the opportunities and challenges facing humanitarian civil-military information sharing, the mechanisms that facilitate it, and the socio-political dynamics that shape it. This research aims to contribute insight to civil-military information sharing debates by challenging assumptions and highlighting the risks and realities of information sharing in complex emergencies. It also aims to bring forth new evidence and stimulate new thinking on the issue. An analysis of civil-military information sharing is also, partly, an analysis of civil-military coordination, as knowledge of coordination mechanisms in this context and the perspectives, strategies, and practices of actors that use them informs a broader understanding of the value and functioning of information sharing.