What Works for Enabling Access? Three Emerging Findings


The SAVE programme is gathering evidence on 'what works' for enabling access and aid quality in insecure environments. This is a first look at the preliminary findings. It highlights three important factors that help enable humanitarian access and delivering higher quality assistance in insecure settings. 

1. Operational independence from political actors: This includes unrestricted funding; independent capacity in logistics and transport, and independent security management. These afford agencies with greater flexibility in programming choices and risk management and help to avoid unwanted association with political objectives. Some examples include:

  • A Syrian aid group was able to work in a hard-to-reach, besieged area, despite foodstuffs costing 15 times what they do in other areas, because of private funding.

  • Aid groups in South Sudan with their own security management capacities and air assets are able to respond more quickly and flexibly and avoid unwanted association with the integrated UN mission.  

2. Local staff who operate with integrity, and know their local context: Employing staff who have a detailed understanding of local political dynamics and relevant personal networks (rather than who simply speak the language or are the right ethnicity), as well as the integrity to negotiate for a needs-based response, can enable humanitarian access. Examples include:

  • An international aid organisation in Somalia that ensures a balance of local staff according to clan and geographic area, while also investing heavily on training on the values of the organisation

  • An aid organisation in Afghanistan balanced tribal representation within one province, in order to maintain conflict sensitivity and maximise social capital

3. A willingness and capacity to talk to armed groups: many humanitarian actors remain uncertain of how to engage with non-state armed actors to enable access, or whether they should do so at all—primarily because there is a lack of clear institutional direction either way. Some engage indirectly (e.g. with community elders) because they lack guidance on how to engage directly, while many others pass responsibility to the field level without giving them any support. Examples of positive practice include:

  • A small number of international agencies in Afghanistan have invested in better analysis to understand different armed groups, and have increased the capacity of their staff to talk to them directly in order to facilitate access.

  • Some larger organisations in South Sudan that have maintained their own capacity to talk directly to armed actors and negotiate access at the local level, often relying on their organisation’s ‘brand’ and its history of delivering quality services in the area.

Additional findings will be shared as we continue to develop our analysis. Along with a final report to be released in mid-2016, Component 2 will produce two multi-language toolkits – one on decision-making in high-risk environments and another on humanitarian access negotiations – which will outline some of the practical implications of the research for operational agencies.