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‘Humanitarian intuition’?

By 19th May 2011No Comments

Reflecting on some work I’ve had the privilege of doing with a major consortium (, namely to establish a core behavioural framework for humanitarian agencies, I’ve been thinking a lot about competencies and how our understanding of competencies is evolving / maturing.

Common consensus has moved us beyond Schein’s ‘Knowledge, Skills, Attitudes’ (1989) to an emphasis on the ‘behaviours required for effective performance’ (CIPD 2009).

The meltdown in the banking / financial services sector highlights the need for a focus on process as well as outcome (ie how we reach an objective does actually matter). We could paraphrase this focus on process as a focus on behaviours. The same is true for the humanitarian sector. Process matters in development, disaster risk reduction, preparedness, response and recovery. Listening and empathy are key when working at a community level.

A lot of us ‘know’ this, especially those of us who live and/or work in communities or with disaster affected people, but how can we actually describe this ‘knowledge’, which is often intuitive?

I wonder if there is such a thing as ‘humanitarian intuition’, and if so is it a competence? How would we describe it? What are the indicators? It touches on world view, attitudes, and our notion of solidarity and empathy.

Moving on, and thinking about Goldman’s work on ’emotional intelligence’ (EQ), is there such a thing as ‘humanitarian intelligence’? There might be, but then again, we could hardly call it ‘HQ’ as that is often one of the last places we find ‘humanitarian intuition’…

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Ben Emmens