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Humanitarian Technology Interventions

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HUMANITECH (Humanitarian Technology Interventions)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

There is growing interest in the positive impact of technology in humanitarian contexts, yet research on humanitarian technology interventions is overly technology-centric, focusing on the technical issues of design and production or beneficiary adoption and impact. HUMANITECH sought to advance the study of humanitarian technology interventions as an organizational phenomenon having global/local dynamics through three studies that relate to improved cookstoves, a technology promoted for health, safety and climate benefits. The first study explored of how improved cookstove interventions in humanitarian settings are viewed by user-beneficiaries. The second study explored the decisions and processes by which scientists and experts create health policy estimates that elevate the importance for improved cookstove interventions. The third study explored the way digital platforms shape the way improved cookstove experts interact and work together in a virtual multi-stakeholder processes. These studies involved the use of the following research methods: narrative interviews, thematic analysis and ethnography.

The HUMANITECH project contributes to society in a number of ways. For instance, the first study provides a grounded picture of the diverse ways improved cookstove interventions influence the lives of women in humanitarian settings. The study captured unique aspects of economic, health and social benefits, raising important considerations for policymakers and improved cookstove designers to consider. The second study seeks to clarify the assumptions and decisions taken by air pollution experts in their efforts to estimate mortality resulting from cooking with solid fuels over traditional open fires or basic stoves. The third study explored the way improved cookstove experts collaborate using digital platforms, and proposes how the technical attributes of digital platforms shape work processes and outcomes. The HUMANITECH project reached its intended scholarly and policy impact through research, scholarly seminars and presentations, engagement with policymakers, research methods training, participation in standards processes, attendance at key events, and a blog piece (see below).
The HUMANITECH project involved a significant amount of work:

a) Research
i-Three empirical studies. One currently under review, another being revised for resubmission, the third in final stage of preparation for submission.
ii-Launch of an Internal Review Board process at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University, The Netherlands to ensure an adequate internal ethics review process.

b) Scholarly presentations
i-Alternative Energy and Rural Development forum at Ahfad University for Women, Sudan, 02/2016 (80+ academics/students);
ii-Cross-Sector Social Interactions meeting in Toronto, Canada, 04/2016 (20 academics);
iii-European Group for Organization Studies meeting in Athens, Greece, 06/2016 (30 academics).

c) Policy forums
i-Discussions and debates in with policymakers representing 5 major UN agencies and 3 embassies in Khartoum, Sudan, 02-04/2017 (25+ officials);
ii-Presentation at ESTORIL high-level policy conference in Cascais, Portugal, 05/2017 (600+ youth/policy leaders).

d) Expert forums
i-Attendance at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves conference held in Accra, Ghana, 11/2015.
ii-Appointment as national expert to the ISO TC285 clean cookstoves and clean cooking solutions process from 01/2016;
iii-Participated in the production of a cookstove testing protocol with experts at China Agricultural University in Beijing, China, 10/2016.

e) Student seminars
i-Two undergraduate seminars at RSM (800+ students);
ii-Half day event on improved cookstoves plus seminar to graduate students at Politecnico di Milano, Italy (100 students);
iii-Seminar to PhD students at China Agricultural University, China (12 students);
iv-Two seminars at Ahfad University for Women, Sudan (60+ students);
v-Two PhD seminars on narrative interview methods at RSM (24 students);
vi-Graduate seminar on research integrity and ethics review at RSM (40 students).

f) Sudan dissemination
i-Shared results in Sudan through the above-noted seminars and policy discussions, as well as subtle dissemination through local partner in Darfur;
ii-Publications to be sent to key academics and humanitarian officials.
The HUMANITECH project advanced the state of the art through three studies to inform both scholarship and policy. The first study explored the topic of humanitarian technology interventions from the perspective of those who use them. Narrative interviews with women living in Darfur’s camps for the internally displaced challenge conventional thinking about cooking habits in camps. This study contributes to an emergent debate concerning the degree to which popular laboratory tests do (or do not) reflect actual cooking practices. Policy recommendations relate to improving health and climate outcomes of improved cookstove interventions. The second study explored the processes by which HAP experts create models that estimate mortality from exposure to cooking with solid fuels. Drawing on narrative interviews with leading air pollution experts, this study sought to understand how and why different models led to different HAP mortality estimates. Findings give insight into the complex and sometimes controversial work of mortality estimation. The third study explored the way the specific attributes of digital platforms shape the way improved cookstove experts interact and work within a virtual multi-stakeholder processes. Drawing on emergent theory concerning the ambivalent ontology of digital artefacts in combination with insights from a virtual work process, this study suggests that the various attributes of digital objects shape work outcomes in ways that are sometimes profound and sometimes subtle.

The HUMANITECH project will have wide scholarly and societal impact. The first study empirically confirms some inherent contradictions in how improved cookstove interventions are promoted in humanitarian settings, revealing a key source of policy-outcome decoupling and suggesting a means to rectify it. The second study has been extremely well-received by all experts interviewed, most of whom feel that the sociological approach to understanding how HAP estimates are produced and change is essential to clarify confusion among the communities of practice who use them. The third study offers a methodological innovation as well as the caution that digital platforms are more than simple mundane tools for facilitating virtual work processes. Moreover, interactions with key officials across numerous UN agencies in Sudan have deepened the types of questions policymakers are asking concerning improved cookstove interventions. Similarly, the presentations and seminars have reached hundreds of students and academics, many of whom expressed appreciation or that they were provoked to think differently about improved cookstove interventions and humanitarian technology more generally. Further, engaging the global standards process has allowed me to make important contributions particularly in the area of measuring social impact. In addition, the three studies will undoubtedly have impact. Finally, the HUMANITECH project has made a significant impact on my position in the field; I am deeply grateful to the European Commission for this.
Title slide from seminar at China Agricultural University
Women making improved mud cookstoves in Darfur, 2017
Presentation at high-level forum in Portugal
Illustration of improved cookstoves used in Darfur's camps