Following evidence from production to use at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: where does it all go?

  • William Walker Hankey
  • Gabriel Pictet
Keywords: citation analysis, network analysis, actor-network theory, evidence, evidence use, humanitarian aid, development


Most humanitarian organisations claim to be evidence-based but how often has this been tested? The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) carried out a network analysis of its documentation to examine how evidence is produced, circulated and used within the IFRC. Network graphs were produced from a sample of 404 documents, depicting the structure of citations between documents. Methodologically, an actor-network perspective was employed to follow the flow of evidence and information through documents in a bid to understand the effort applied to our commitment to be evidence-based. This analysis found the uptake of evidence by other documents to be wanting. Through conventional metrics, we also found that connected documents follow a power-law distribution at multiple scales, implying the structure is scale-free, and identified the key documents shape this hierarchical structure. Unlike conventional explanations for scale-free networks, we found Least Effort provides a better explanation to how this specific arrangement arose. The limited and fragmented use of citations suggests that the principle of Least Effort is a consequence of the organisational culture in the aid sector which fails to adequately incentivise more reflexive practices in the production and use of evidence.