Research

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Introduction

The precise nature of this multi-layered inquiry into state and agency relationships from a SMR perspective, and the manner in which it contributes to securing humanitarian personnel from a specific type of threat, has necessitated both qualitative and quantitative research approaches to produce an appropriately analytical examination. To better understand the nature of the key issues it was first necessary to consider how the proposition could be dissected and which "methods and techniques" might reveal the most valuable insights (Bell, 1993:155). A mixture of research tools were therefore employed to make up for the lack of previous studies dedicated to this exact topic, and to gather in-depth information about how the relationships between state and agencies are implemented in practice, which included: scrutiny of both primary and secondary source materials, a survey deployed in both pilot and finalised formats, and semi-structured interviews of both conventional and electronic means. Whilst there are a number of reports available that consider the threat-level facing contemporary humanitarians, few isolate whom individuals hold responsible for their personal safety. To gather such data it was necessary to canvas the opinions of experienced field-based aid workers, operating in a variety of complex emergency environments, and employed by primary agencies. The selected participants taking part in the purposely designed survey operate at senior management levels, are currently employed as security risk managers, or were previously security focal points of a certain nature, for the organisation concerned. As mentioned previously there are innumerable humanitarian organisations operating globally, however for the purposes of this project only SMs employed by key actors were approached, including UN agencies, INGOs, IOs such as Red Cross Movement organisations, and key governmental counterparts or state security personnel. The interviews conducted, however, were restricted to 10 pre-selected high-level humanitarian and government employees only. Originally the topic was selected as a direct result of the professional status of the researcher who is employed as a Security Risk Manager for the United Nations. As such the researcher may be considered as an 'insider' "who is already accepted in the research setting and whom the potential participants trust" (Department of Criminology, 2007:4-9). However in order to conduct a thorough study, the researcher was also dependent upon 'gatekeepers' in both the humanitarian sector and to gain access to suitable host state counterparts. In order to complete the study in time and within the resources available, purposive sampling has been utilised (Arber, 2001:61). The samples could also have been reliably divided into three subsets and then analysed according to varying perspectives: INGO personnel and general UN staff; INGO and UN Security Officers (CSAs, SAs and FSCOs) who are serving (or recently served) in senior and middle management appointments; and government security counterparts. However, access to the online survey was opened to all participants, and the outputs recorded on an electronic database, processed and analysed to gather an overall perspective and general impression of the security situation

Summary

Investigating the security practices and procedures of humanitarian agencies and collating information on the nature of security collaboration between these organisations and the host government involved the sharing of highly sensitive and in some cases restricted material. In such cases there can be a legitimate concern about releasing this information for fear it will become publicly scrutinised, diminishing the very safety of humanitarian personnel the study seeks to enhance, and therefore every effort has been made to maintain participant confidence, protect sensitive materials, and to avoid negatively impacting state and agency relations (Bulmer, 2001:54). Also the research has not distinguished between the various types of agencies considered in the study, the impact of various restrictions from operational mandates and internal procedural bureaucracy in their security practices, nor the different thresholds applied to national as opposed to international staff, in order to draw general conclusions about the relationships between state and agency. Whilst in theory national staff members should abide by the same rules, it must be appreciated they enjoy a greater level of flexibility in their application, especially with respect to movement within state boundaries. The selection of appropriate subjects to participate in the study was critical to the quality of the information gathered (Maguire, 2007:276). In an attempt to avoid any unnecessary bias, a cross-section of personnel have been interviewed and surveyed encompassing different races, sex, religious preference, and ages, however it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of staff working in the security sector are male. It was necessary to cast a broad net across a relatively large sample population to anticipate a number of the parties withholding permission and choosing not to participate in the exercise. Further to this, an established level of trust and firm relationships, were essential in soliciting the most useful and sound data from the respondents. In order to encourage maximum participation and in-keeping with the spirit of the study to materially contribute to enhancing the operational security of humanitarian personnel, results of the research will be shared on a confidential basis and limited to a 'key findings' summarised document. Considerable effort was placed in the design of the survey and interview questions in order to collect both quantitative and qualitative data of a sound nature (Department of Criminology, 2007:6-26). Some closed questions were utilised to contribute identifiable and measurable outcomes to the study, alongside open-ended questions to gather qualitative insights. "Ultimately the aim was to develop valid and reliable ways of 'collecting facts' about society" (Clarke, 2001:32). Structured and semi-structured questions were also utilised during the research process, although semi-structured questions were limited to conventional interviews. The need to anticipate the 'perspective' of various participants has been important in analysing results since there are those who relay a particular political agenda in their responses (De Montclos, 2001:1-2). To a certain extent this has been minimised through question design techniques, providing a strict framework for responses, however a balanced approached has been employed so that questions were neither focused solely on simple 'yes' or 'no' responses, nor purely aimed at soliciting overt opinion (Department of Criminology, 2007:1-14). As a means of cross-referencing the survey and interview responses, publicly available papers containing the opinions of diplomatic, civil, military, and police personnel, who have experience in the humanitarian sector, have supplemented the overall analysis considered in the Doctrinal Theory Chapter; for example the paper by Ambassador Jan Eliasson (Loehr & Wong, 1995: 491-506). A full copy of the survey questionnaire is available at Annex B and the interview questionnaire at Annex F. In undertaking both the survey and the interview process, initially many of the potential respondents were contacted by telephone and email to canvass their interest to participate. Since the semi-structured interviews were intended as a tool to supplement survey findings, only the most senior humanitarian and governmental counterparts currently working in the field, and known to the researcher, were invited to take part. Subsequently, it was observed that most of the candidates approached to take part in the research, of what is considered a sensitive topic in the sector, were reliably engaged. Additionally, 5 trusted contacts, with previous experience in tertiary research methods, were requested to take part in the 'pilot' survey to further develop the instrument. As Light et al states: no design is ever complete that it cannot be improved by a small-scale exploratory study. Pilot studies are almost always worth the time and effort…A pilot study allows you to use different kinds of information to strengthen the overall picture (and) discussion with respondents can help establish content validity'. (1990:213) The pilot survey was especially useful in removing ambiguity from the questions posed. Formal invitations to potential study participants were electronically mailed in order to take advantage of 'instant messaging technologies' as a time saving measure. Distribution lists were created to facilitate sending reminder messages, which increased both the rate and the number of survey responses (Arber, 2001:74). The written invitations included details about the purpose of the study, the reasons for approaching the participant, and how the information was to be used. All candidates were formally requested to consent to participate in the study, prior to completing questionnaires and taking part in semi-structured interviews. Therefore participation was voluntary and anonymity was guaranteed to provide an environment in which individuals could feel free to respond openly (Bulmer, 2001:54). Respondents were also offered the opportunity to remain 'officially on record' should they explicitly prefer.

Comclusion

Since the primary method of gathering information from respondents was through electronic means of distribution, collection and collation, the risks to participants were limited who were able to complete the questionnaires within a designated timeframe and in a 'private' space. Also, interviews were only conducted with high-level personnel employed by well-known humanitarian organisations, some of whom had previously held governmental positions, so there was no contact with 'vulnerable' individuals or persons with questionable motives. Although the questionnaires and interviews did not ask about personally sensitive issues, the topic of humanitarian safety can be a sensitive matter. Participants were therefore reassured that their involvement remained anonymous, that the data would be stored responsibly, kept confidential and for research purposes only. Much of the survey data was analysed quantitatively by using descriptive statistics, such as percentage graphs within supportive tables. Other responses were simply totalled and the data represented in tabled format. The qualitative data was analysed by identifying key themes and issues that emerged from both the interviews and open-ended questions presented in the survey. There were very few costs involved in undertaking the study, beyond the usual administrative and research expenses, and it was conducted primarily from a central base of operation. Rather the time available and access to the preferred sample population were the primary determinants in the methodology design, which are factors outlined by Barbour and Kitzinger as cited by Cronin (2001:169). To distinguish between the ideal level of cooperation outlined on MOU agreements and the manner in which the collaboration between state and agency actually functions, constitutive documents were cross-referenced against survey data and information gathered during interviews (Cronin, 2001:169). Whilst consideration of primary source data was important to establishing an understanding of the SRM techniques employed by humanitarian organisations to secure their staff; this has been further triangulated against other sources; government, independent appraisals, media, and academic assessments. Moreover it has been critical to consider the context from which each author has approached their research in order to properly appraise the benefit of the information and whether it adds valuable insights to the analysis undertaken in this particular study (Department of Criminology, 2007:5-34). Although interviews with senior managers and survey responses from humanitarian personnel is an important source of information concerning the security issues faced by aid workers, and on the complexities of the relationships with host governments, there were limitations in undertaking this type of research. Firstly, it is possible that senior managers projected a more idealistic version of a given situation, whilst in practice the policies and procedures may not be implemented as intended, depending on various factors. Also, many of those interviewed have established professional relationships with the researcher, which can influence outcomes. Although the benefits of this approach include efficient and timely responses with little resources dispensed in the process, it also implies that participants may be influenced by their relationship with the interviewer, and may have unintentionally biased their responses to match the predispositions of the researcher. Environmental factors, such as unreliable phone networks and time zone differences necessitated emailing questionnaires to some of the interview participants. Therefore the responses were provided under different conditions, and arguably those able to submit their responses through email might be considered slightly more impartial. The fact that the researcher is currently employed as a Security Risk Manager for the UN also implies a certain bias towards the subject of the safety and security of humanitarian personnel. However, given the material available on this specific topic it must be appreciated that the experience of the researcher can also contribute to the findings and to increasing awareness on the subject. Further, it is important to recognise that the capacity to research the topic exhaustively was limited by the time allocated to completing the project, almost 5 months, and that it was undertaken by a sole researcher. Given many of the participants work in conflict zones, politically and socially tense environments, and in dozens of different countries, field-based direct access was not advisable. By extension, it is impossible to 'know' the actual situation on the ground in every location, with respect to how well safety protocols and procedures are working, whether all agencies are implementing contingencies as intended, and whether the system as a whole is routinely observed by individuals. The researcher is also readily aware that there can be a tendency toward under-reporting of security incidents by staff which will continue to impede accurate data collection and need to be factored into the analysis (De Montclos, 2001:1). This may be linked to a concern that the operational area could be re-assessed as being at a higher level of risk, restricting movement and personnel from completing their work successfully, in order to provide a 'safe(r) work environment' (De Montclos, 2001:1,2,5). Therefore, recommendations for policy improvements may not appear original in content, but rather seek to reinforce trends requiring improvement, and to demonstrate the importance of accurately recorded data to the development of best practices in the field. It must also be appreciated that discretion and judgement is utilised in assessing potential threats, by humanitarian personnel operating in the field, which implies that "gauging the gravity of threats involves some subjectivity" (Bandura, 1990:166). Although it was generally accepted, for all manner of risk including terrorism, that even under the most rigid or ideal conditions 'total safety' was not achievable, "ironically, the better we (become) at managing risks, the more difficult to handle are the… failures that slip through the net" (Borodzicz, 2005:159). Through these statements it is apparent that SRM is not an exact science, but rather prone to both subjectivity and probability. Finally, understanding that research can only represent a specific snap-shot in time is imperative. The logistical challenges faced in securing humanitarian personnel, the nature of the threat, the operational environment and relationships between states and agencies will always fluctuate. Therefore any recommendations for policy improvements need to be suitably flexible in order to be adapted to changing circumstances as much as possible.

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