a meeting of the minds

Last week I attended a forum that brought together both academics and practitioners in the humanitarian space. While many came with a background in humanitarian shelter and settlements, others came with experience in WASH, food security, and gender. It was a two-day event that sought to find new ways to bring together academics and practitioners so that the two groups, who are both passionate about improving humanitarian response, can leverage their resources, skills, and time for new solutions.

During the meeting, it became incredibly clear that the structures supporting academics and practitioners are drastically different. The demands on academics don’t align with practitioners timelines, and the needs of practitioners are not congruent with the traditional workings of academia. So, what can be done?

I left the meeting feeling inspired (not only because of the remarkable group of people with whom I had spent the past two days) but also because of the energy to find new solutions and work together in better ways. Yes, there were moments when fresh ideas were dismissed or discouraged because there it was assumed that they would never work. And yes, actually implementing the suggestions from the meeting will be difficult and will take time that most in the room just don’t have. But it was a start. People were connecting and starting to understand the barriers and challenges each other face.

I was particularly intrigued by the conversations around data – data sharing and data management. In a field where everyone needs to demonstrate results, either to donors or academic journals, how can we cooperate to share data so that we aren’t reinventing the wheel every time we start a new project? How can we collect and analyze data in real time so that we can address problems as they arise, correct course, and get resources to the people who need them? How can we better use data and evidence to inform policy?

Those questions are daunting and require the buy-in of many groups of people. They are also questions that I felt (and still feel) ill-equipped to answer. However, there was also a lot of conversation about translating research between groups. Often, academics write for other academics – there is a certain jargon and language that we use to communicate among ourselves. But what is the purpose of research if it isn’t getting into the hands of people who can use it? Thus, I walked out of the meeting with a new commitment to sharing my work in ways beyond journal articles and presentations at academic conferences. It is a skill that I will have to hone and develop, but I am committed to more blog posts, one-to-two pagers that summarize my findings, working with graphic designers (or developing some of my own graphic design skills), and listening to what practitioners say they need to know.

I want to get my work out there so that it can be the most useful — if you have ideas on how to better disseminate and share findings, let me know!

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