An Incomplete Manifesto for Humanitarian Safety and Security Practitioners
Don’t fool yourself or others. Bad things can still happen; despite your best efforts. Work on building resiliency.
Boring and mundane stuff is usually more dangerous (as a whole) than sexy threats.
Disease, vehicle accidents, and fires harm far more humanitarian workers than terrorists.
Assessments are just a snapshot in time.
Avoid treating them as if they’re written in stone. Real world context is much too dynamic and fluid.
Pick low-hanging fruit.
Identify easy-to-fix (low effort/low budget) vulnerabilities and do something about them early on for cumulative risk reduction.
Kaizen is Japanese for “gradual improvement.” Apply the concept to safety and security. (By the way, Kaizen doesn’t come from Zen but originated with Toyota manufacturing process and theory.)
Take advantage of teachable moments.
If something bad happens to your organization (or someone else, for that matter), be prepared to use it as an example to educate and affect policy and behavioral change. The more publicity an event tends to receive, the more teachable it can be.
Pay attention to small things.
They usually snowball into something bigger and more challenging to handle.
Know the costs.
Implementing a security management program and safety and security measures takes time, money, and effort. Understand the tangible and intangible costs before you start implementing (or promising to).
Use the Incident Command System (ICS).
It’s well suited for managing humanitarian crisis events.
If you don’t have management’s committed support of safety and security efforts, look for another job.
Always be polite.
Treat everyone you encounter with respect. Be patient, always.
Listen and ask questions.
Especially when your opinion and advice are being sought. If you don’t know or understand something, don’t try to fake that you do.
With yourself and others. Even if it’s uncomfortable.
Learn from field staff.
If you don’t live there, you can’t possibly understand the full context.
Understand what drives and motivates people.
Having a sense of others’ perspectives goes a long way when it comes time to work with them.
Remember that the news media is sustained by exaggerated risk.
Don’t buy into it. Statistics and critical thinking trump talking heads and hype.
Turf wars and pissing contests with other NGOs degrades security.
Play nice, share information, and cooperate with other practitioners.
Don’t make predictions.
Even if you’re smart and well informed, your predictive batting average still probably sucks. Don’t believe me? Try writing down all of the predictions you made about work and personal life during the course of a month. Then see how many come true.
Understand the difference between strategy and tactics.
Tactics should support and be linked to a defined strategy. Always clearly establish goals and strategies before you start taking action.
Go outside your domain.
Study how safety and security is practiced in other domains (such as private sector, government, education, the natural world, etc.). Take what is useful and discard the rest.
Avoid dogma and herd mentality.
Don’t refer to staff as Safety and Security Focal Points.
Just what is a focal point? Would you want to be called one? Ditch ambiguous buzzwords that don’t convey meaning (or respect); even if everyone else uses them.
Avoid mindless copying and pasting.
Too many safety and security manuals, policies and procedures, and trainings are works copied from elsewhere; derivative at best, regurgitated at worst. It’s fine to leverage (up to a point), just don’t let it stop you from innovating.
Until something bad happens, staff typically views safety and security measures as impediments to their daily workflow.
Accept it and work around the problem. Playing on Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) can be effective, if done mindfully and sparingly.
Always give staff a reason why a safety and security measure or policy is being put in place.
Compliance will increase if they understand motivation.
Don’t use PowerPoint.
It’s a crutch. If you have to, use lots of images (that are relevant) and few words. Engage people, don’t put them to sleep.
If you travel enough, you’ll eventually figure this out.
Take care of yourself.
Dealing with bad things on a regular basis can take a psychic toll. Find beauty and joy in life to balance the negativity that is a part of your job.
Don't do stupid things, with stupid people, in stupid places.
And encourage the same behavior with staff.
Walk, run, swim, bike, lift weights, do yoga, whatever. It decreases stress. Good fitness also allows you to perform your job better.
Don’t give advice unless asked or expected to.
What goes through your head when you receive unsolicited advice?
Watch your ego.
Pride does indeed go before the fall. Learn about cognitive biases and how they can trip you up. And don’t take yourself too seriously.
Pass on your experience and knowledge before you leave.
Need some ideas? Try works by: Dan Ariely, Robert Cialdini, Danny Kahneman, Gary Klein, Peter Sandman, Nate Silver, Nasim Taleb, Edward Tufte, Sun Tzu, and Karl Weick.
Do the right thing.
Don’t let bureaucracy, politics, and nonsense stand in the way of true humanitarian practice.
You can’t save the world.
But you can make it a better place.
revised 5/8/2013 - inspired by Bruce Mau’s An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth