Humanitarian Negotiation:

Key Challenges and Lessons Learned in an Emerging Field

Photo by Thomas Glass, © ICRC

Audio Overview of This Briefing

Rob Grace, Senior Associate, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
Excerpted from Humanitarian Negotiation in Practice. Click here for the full podcast.

Executive Summary

This interactive briefing focuses on the challenges and dilemmas that humanitarian negotiators face in their work. On the one hand, professionals across the humanitarian sector have increasingly recognized the important role that negotiation plays in humanitarian action. Indeed, a growing body of literature examines humanitarian practitioners’ experiences with negotiation in a wide array of complex emergency settings. On the other hand, the field of humanitarian negotiation has been slow to develop a body of research analyzing common issues faced, produce policy guidance that grapples in an in depth manner with the practical difficulties of humanitarian negotiations, and build professional networks both within individual organizations and across the sector so that negotiators can share best practices with one another. This interactive briefing takes stock of past efforts in this regard and examines the potential for forging a community of practice in this domain.

Introduction

Negotiations are crucial for the overall success of humanitarian operations, yet these endeavors are inherently challenging. In particularly stark terms, according to one practitioner: “everything has to be negotiated by teams on the ground and it will always be painful and difficult.”[1] Given both the importance of humanitarian negotiations and the gravity of the difficulties faced, what is the capacity of the humanitarian sector to carry forward lessons learned from past negotiations? This paper addresses this question. Specifically, this paper examines the field of humanitarian negotiation as a unique professional domain that has encountered common challenges across different geographic contexts. The overall issue at hand is that, although negotiators in different settings have encountered similar dilemmas and obstacles, the field of humanitarian negotiation has been slow to develop a body of research analyzing common issues faced, produce policy guidance that grapples in an in depth manner with the practical difficulties of humanitarian negotiations, and build professional networks both within individual organizations and across the sector so that negotiators can share best practices with one another.

Related Audio

On the harsh realities and difficult cost/benefit relationships confronted by humanitarian negotiators

Claude Bruderlein
Strategic Advisor to the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross

Excerpted from:
Humanitarian Negotiation in Practice
Click here for the full podcast.

This paper proceeds in three parts. Part I presents an overview of the key challenges faced in the field of humanitarian negotiation. Part II examines the past efforts that have been undertaken to promote a deeper understanding of this field. Based on this analysis, Part III offers concluding remarks.

About the Author

Rob Grace is a Senior Associate at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. He would like to thank Claude Bruderlein and Julia Brooks for helpful comments and edits offered during the process of drafting this paper.

Rob Grace

Rob Grace