We believe that humanitarian and development actors can truly put people at the centre of their action through correct data processes and context-sensitive analysis, involving displaced and displacement-affected populations. To reinforce this message, we were invited to join forces with IDMC and UNHCR to organise a panel on country-based efforts to strengthen the evidence base on IDPs, with a focus on the essential role of national NGOs in acquiring this much-needed evidence.
Collaboration with local and national NGOs is at the very core of our collective efforts to prevent and resolve displacement and protect IDPs. The aim of the UNHCR Annual Consultations with NGOs is exactly to provide an opportunity for organisations to meet in person, share experiences, reinforce their commitment and plan ahead. Including a session focusing specifically on data in this context, was therefore relevant and well-received.
Moderated by Dr. Angela Cotroneo, Adviser on Internal Displacement at ICRC, JIPS’s co-organised panel offered the chance to highlight best practices from national NGOs, map the key gaps and challenges they face, and explore ways for UNHCR and the broader humanitarian sector to better engage with NGOs to strengthen the evidence base on internal displacement. Based on her work on urban displacement, Dr. Cotroneo, opened the session by highlighting the value of data for questioning common assumptions about internal displacement in out of camp situations.
Reliable data and analysis are central to the development of effective laws, policies, programs and advocacy that comprehensively address internal displacement, and the 20th anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provides us with a great opportunity to mobilise action to reduce and resolve internal displacement. In many cases, however, UNHCR and other international organisations simply cannot get the data they need without effective partnership and coordination with NGOs.
To this end, it is crucial to work closely with local and national NGOs and build-off their strong engagement with displaced populations and host communities, and benefit from their invaluable understanding of the social, cultural and political dynamics of local contexts. During the discussion, valuable insights were shared by representatives of three organisations working on this field: Noah Bullock, Executive Director of Cristosal (El Salvador), Iryna Aleksieieva, Project Manager at Right to Protection (Ukraine), and Oscar Paz, Urban Programming Coordinator at World Vision, Honduras. 
Although working in very different contexts, each intervention demonstrated clear lessons from managing data processes in insecure contexts on sensitive topics. They also highlighted important messages concerning capacity and resource limitation, the value of qualitative data and analysis for advocacy purposes, and the impact of a strong reputation as a credible NGO for forging the appropriate partnerships with both institutions and communities.
Reliable data help shape effective advocacy activities and inform better interventions to protect IDPs and displacement-affected populations, putting their needs and preferences at the forefront of our action. Putting people first, however, does not only mean involving these groups in just any data collection and analysis processes, but also making sure that these processes are linked to a theory of change. Governments, humanitarian and development actors that collect data to address internal displacement have an obligation to link the questions they ask to concrete actions and responses; ultimately, this means avoiding “collecting data for the sake of data” and helps to ensure the data are linked to specified, collective outcomes.
As clearly expressed by the panellists, if we don’t use the data we collect to implement actions that concretely address the problem and help reach solutions, people will end up losing trust in the process and thus the incentive to participate. This is particularly true in sensitive contexts, where affected populations involved in data collection and analysis processes might have well-founded safety concerns and fears of retaliation.
Linked to this, Noah Bullock of Cristosal, shared information about a pilot project currently underway to support communities with analytical tools to measure their own progress towards solutions. This work has been inspired by and based on the Durable Solutions Indicator Library & Analysis Guide. We hope to be in contact with Noah and his colleagues later this year to find out more.
Without reliable data the relevance and quality of our interventions to prevent, protect and resolve internal displacement would be severely hampered. The role of national NGOs in acquiring the necessary data is unquestionable especially in contexts where access to displaced and displacement-affected communities can be limited and safety concerns particularly serious. Involving local and national NGOs is not only an operational advantage, but indeed a necessary requirement.
 Stay tuned for further details on specific country experiences.