Secure Access in Volatile Environments. Improving the evidence base on delivering aid in highly insecure environments: Summary Inception Report.


Secure Access in Volatile Environments (SAVE) is a three-year programme of applied research on maintaining humanitarian access in the world’s most challenging operational contexts. The overall goal of the programme is to contribute to solutions for providing effective and accountable humanitarian action amid high levels of insecurity. This will be achieved through improving the evidence base with primary research and producing new practical guidance.

The research programme will be implemented through three linked components:

(1) access: quantifying and mapping humanitarian coverage in relation to security conditions;

(2) effectiveness: identifying the key determinants for enabling quality aid interventions amid insecurity; and

(3) monitoring and evaluation: providing practical lessons and guidance for improved learning and accountability in the most challenging environments.

The research programme will be sequenced with the research on access and security (Component 1) initiated first. The goal of Component 1 is to derive quantitative measures of humanitarian presence and coverage and to model how these change in relation to changing levels of insecurity, as defined by the incidence of targeted attacks on civilian aid operations. The evidence base constructed in Component 1 will help inform Components 2 and 3. The latter two components will be initiated in parallel within six months of the start of implementation.

The goal of Component 2 is to comparatively assess the practical modalities by which different types of humanitarian actors seek to most effectively and responsibly deliver aid to needy populations in highly insecure settings. It will examine the range of aid agency types, approaches and delivery models. The component will explore two over-arching research questions: what works best in obtaining access in the most insecure environments, and what works best in delivering quality aid in situations of reduced oversight and control.

The third area of research, monitoring and evaluation, acknowledges that insecure environments pose a number of interrelated challenges to the goals of assessing performance and increasing accountability to beneficiaries and donors. Component 3 will work with a small number of aid organisations and/or joint monitoring initiatives (‘learning partners’) as well as conducting wider global analysis, to identify priority monitoring and evaluation challenges. It aims to contribute to donors’ and aid organisations’ decision-making regarding the principles and good practices for monitoring and evaluation in highly insecure environments, including strategies to increase the sharing of findings and lessons learned.

Humanitarian Outcomes, in partnership with the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), will work with technical experts, research partners and aid agencies to conduct operationally driven and field-based research. Field research will be carried out in four case study countries: Afghanistan, Somalia (focusing on South Central Somalia and northeast Kenya), South Sudan and Syria. These represent the four most violent contexts for aid workers in 2012, where humanitarian actors have faced major access challenges in attempting to respond to severe humanitarian needs (AWSD, 2013). The field research will be complemented by a global-level contextual analysis, covering a large number of humanitarian settings with varying degrees of insecurity.

The research will address a significant deficit in quantitative data and methodological rigor in the debates around humanitarian access in highly insecure environments. The methods to address the research questions build on the study team’s long experience in conducting mixed methodology research on aid and security dynamics, as well as in establishing and maintaining functional datasets. Innovative methods, including new technologies, will also be used to quantify humanitarian coverage and develop models to show relationships between insecurity and humanitarian reach. To address a significant gap in knowledge on how crisis-affected populations’ access to aid may be changed or compromised by insecurity, the team will conduct in-person consultations as well as remote surveying with telecommunications networks and interactive voice recording.

The SAVE research programme is complemented by an engagement, dissemination and uptake strategy. The strategy recognises operational aid organisations and humanitarian donors as key stakeholders and seeks to engage them throughout the research process. These stakeholders will inform and enhance the research as participant observers, and their input will be sought through a series of in-country workshops and global briefings. Component 1 will develop collaborative approaches to data collection, Component 2 will develop guidance by working with operational partners and Component 3 will engage in lesson learning with aid agencies and joint monitoring initiatives. Building from this engagement, the research team will produce rigorous evidence, to be released in 2015 and 2016. This evidence and related guidance will deepen the aid community’s understanding of how to practically address the challenges of access, aid effectiveness and accountability in the most insecure environments.


Humanitarian Outcomes; GPPi. Secure Access in Volatile Environments. Improving the evidence base on delivering aid in highly insecure environments: Summary Inception Report. (2014) 31 pp.

Secure Access in Volatile Environments. Improving the evidence base on delivering aid in highly insecure environments: Summary Inception Report.

Published 1 January 2014