Evidence matters: Examples of evidence-based decision making in humanitarian emergencies and how it can be improved

This session is linked to Plenary 3: EVIDENCE FOR EMERGING CRISES: How international collaboration and innovation can solve global humanitarian crises, such as Ebola

Target audience:
Those interested in an evidence-based approach to humanitarian action in disasters and other emergencies, including policy makers, international aid workers and researchers, and others who want to explore the challenges of evidence-based decision making in humanitarian crises. The session will be appropriate for people with any level of prior knowledge about the topic. 


  • Provide examples that highlight the use of evidence to inform decisions and choices in different humanitarian disasters and emergencies, demonstrating why evidence matters wherever the emergency is in the world. 
  • Show some of the challenges in interpreting evidence from a more routine setting when applying it to a disaster or other emergency. 
  • Discuss why some interventions are applied despite a lack of evidence. 
  • Raise the profile of the use of robust evidence in the humanitarian sector. 
  • Highlight barriers towards using evidence in the humanitarian sector. 
  • Showcase the development and role of Evidence Aid. 
  • Prepare a commentary about improving the use of evidence in the humanitarian sector for publication along with accompanying podcasts. (TBC)


Key topic:
Using storytelling to describe the use of evidence-based decision making in the humanitarian context, explain why some interventions are used despite a lack of evidence and discuss how evidence is interpreted differently in different contexts. The session will also consider how evidence-based decision making can be improved in the humanitarian sector.

The speakers will discuss relevant experience in three different emergencies (speakers TBC):

  1. Indian Ocean Tsunami – Brief debriefing as an example of an ineffective intervention. 
  2. Brussels Terror Attack - Psychosocial first aid as an example of a lack of evidence. 
  3. Ebola or Cholera - an example of implanting evidence on effective interventions (TBC).


  • Introduction by the Chair (5 minutes). 
  • Evidence Aid presentation – how it started and where it is now, followed by general discussion (15 minutes). 
  • Three presentations, with discussion after each speaker (65 minutes).

With more than US$28 billion spent in 2015 on international humanitarian aid, the use of evidence is critical if funding is to be used effectively. Since Evidence Aid (www.evidenceaid.org) was established in December 2004 (as a Cochrane project, but now an independent charity registered in the UK), more than 1.6 billion people have been affected by disasters globally, with the estimated total cost of damages totalling over US$1.3 trillion for the period to 2013. However, despite this enormous burden and the real and pressing need to alleviate it, robust evidence of the effects of interventions in humanitarian response remains hard to find. More promisingly, though, recognition of the need for evidence-based decision making is increasing. By bringing together those who generate the necessary evidence with those who need and want to use it, Evidence Aid is grasping the opportunity to improve outcomes for billions of people. This session will highlight how the related challenges are being met and what needs to happen in the future if the humanitarian sector is to benefit from the lessons learned for evidence-based health and social care over recent decades.


Target audience: 

Policy makers, international aid workers and researchers, and others who want to explore the challenges of evidence-based decision making in humanitarian crises.

Type of session: 

The session will be chaired by Mike Clarke, with an introduction to Evidence Aid followed by three presentations to provide illustrative examples about the interventions used in specific emergencies in both low- and high-income countries. Audience discussion will take place after each presentation. The session will showcase the independent charity Evidence Aid and its continuing partnership with Cochrane, as well as other agencies and organisations. It will show how those involved in evaluating and implementing evidence about interventions can respond to the research needs of governments and NGOs when an emergency happens, the resources that are needed, how these can be used, and the work that remains to be done to provide the humanitarian sector with access to robust evidence. The audience will be asked to consider how they might become involved in supporting the work of Evidence Aid. A commentary will be prepared following the session for publication and the presentations will be recorded, with a view to preparing one or more audio podcasts.

Other contributors:

Jansen J1
1 Evidence Aid, UK


Friday 15 September 2017 - 11:00 to 12:30