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Prosocial I-O: Quo Vadis: Evidence-Based Aid in Disaster Management: Doing More Good Than Harm

Stuart Carr
Massey University

Professor Mike Clarke became chair of Research Methodology at Queen’s University in Belfast and director of the All-Ireland Hub for Trials Methodology Research in March this year, after being director of the UK Cochrane Centre since 2002 (http://ukcc.cochrane.org/). Mike has worked actively on more than 30 systematic reviews in a wide range of areas, as well as on large, randomized trials in topics such as maternity care, breast cancer, poisoning, and stroke. He is Podcast and Journal Club Editor for The Cochrane Library (http://www.thecochranelibrary.com/view/0/index.html), and has a strong interest in increasing capacity for the conduct of systematic reviews1 and in improving their accessibility, in particular in low- and middle-income countries. His work on accessibility includes Evidence Aid, which is seeking to make it easier for people in and around organizations planning for and responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies to use systematic reviews in their decision making (http://www.cochrane.org/cochrane-reviews/evidence-aid-project). Today he speaks to us about this important programmatic development.

1. Mike, can you tell us a little bit more about the Evidence Aid project?

Evidence Aid is an attempt to turn the evidence that has been gathered in research into the knowledge that people planning for, and responding to, natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies need when they are making decisions and making choices. It arose within The Cochrane Collaboration after the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004, to improve access to information about the effects of healthcare interventions of particular relevance in natural disasters. In health care and human services generally, the last 20 years have seen an increasing recognition of the role of systematic reviews as a key piece in the jigsaw for evidence-based decisions, and it should be no different when faced with a disaster. People in organizations engaged in disaster risk reduction, preparedness, and response want to do more good than harm but don’t always have the tools available to allow them to make well-informed decisions that will help individuals, businesses, and communities to recover. They need timely access to high quality, unbiased information on what works and what doesn’t work. We shouldn’t expect them to have work through dozens, or even hundreds, of research studies to get to this. We need to review this information for them, using well-established, robust methods; and then make it available in a timely, accessible, and understandable format. We can do this through systematic reviews.

2. You mentioned The Cochrane Collaboration, which produces systematic reviews of the effects of healthcare interventions. Does this mean that Evidence Aid just looks at health?

You’re right that the Collaboration is focused on health care. In fact, it’s the world’s largest organization producing systematic reviews of the effects of interventions with upwards of 4,500 reviews already produced and more than 25,000 volunteers in over 100 countries. However, Evidence Aid is now moving beyond health care. Many of the problems faced after disasters and during other humanitarian crises relate to other things: shelter, communication, construction, education, security support, rebuilding jobs, and services for displaced people, to name but a few. There’s no reason to believe that systematic reviews can’t help to resolve uncertainties and help decision makers who are working directly in, researching, or consulting in these areas. Earlier this year, we were able to appoint Bonnix Kayabu at the Centre for Global Health in Trinity College Dublin, and he has already identified several key areas that we are set to explore in the coming months. To add to this, however, we’ve launched an Internet survey in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish to gather information from people with relevant experience on their priorities for evidence and how they would like to receive this. The survey is available today from http://www.EvidenceAid.org.

3. Where might industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology come in?

After the initial health-related challenges, such as broken bones, have been dealt with following a disaster, among the biggest challenges remaining are likely to relate to mental health services and psychological well-being. And these are the sorts of problems that could have a major impact on the speed with which people and their communities are able to recover. Organizations need to understand the scale of the problem, the interventions that would help to solve it, and how to implement these. I-O psychology has a key role to play in this. It can help aid and public service organizations to gather data on the number of people affected and identify those in most need of assistance, before moving on to the design and delivery of effective interventions and, and this is something I am especially keen on, providing people and organizations with the opportunity to take part in new studies that will give them access to the best possible alternatives and resolve uncertainties for the future.

4. How might our profession help out more?

There are so many ways, but I’ll give you just a few for now. One of the first things we did in Evidence Aid after the Indian Ocean tsunami was to gather the questions that people in the affected region needed answers to, rather than assuming that we might know these ourselves from thousands of miles away. The same remains true. We need I-O psychologists who work in the disaster arena to tell us about the choices they need to make, what their uncertainties are, and what the options might be (for some examples about the impact of stress on disaster workers to community workforce resilience and recovery, see Paton, 2008). It would be great if I-O psychologists would then work with Evidence Aid to tackle these issues through systematic reviews and, when these reviews are done, if they would help to place the findings in context by preparing commentaries.2 We also need them to be advocates for Evidence Aid with their colleagues, to raise awareness of Evidence Aid so that the people who would find it useful can find it. And, of course, we would greatly welcome feedback responses to the needs assessment survey from within the TIP and I-O psychology community (http://www.EvidenceAid.org).

5. Do you want to leave TIP readers with any particular take-home

As practitioners or researchers, our driving motivation should be the desire to do more good than harm. To succeed, we need to gather, provide, and use evidence that is as reliable and up to date as possible. Evidence Aid is striving to achieve this for the tens of millions of people affected by natural disasters and humanitarian crises every year, and for the organizations and staff working to assist them. There’s a great deal of work to be done, and the more people who can help the better. Sadly, one of the things that we can be certain of about the future is that there will be another earthquake, another tsunami, another hurricane. We need to build Evidence Aid so that it’s ready when it’s needed and so that it can achieve its goal of easing the pain and suffering that the next disaster might bring.

Thank you so much, Mike, for sharing your news about this important development with our TIP readers. I/we hope it enables much fruitful dialogue, and mutual capacity building.

1 For interested readers, these have been discussed in detail in Briner & Rousseau (2011), and Oliver et al, (2005).
2 See Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 2011, 4(1), for an example.



Briner, R. B., & Rousseau, D. M. (2011). Evidence-based I-O psychology: Not there yet.  Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 4, 3–22.

Oliver, S., Harden, A., & Rees, R. (2005). An emerging framework for including different types of evidence in systematic reviews for public policy. Evaluation, 11, 428–46.

Paton, D. (2008). Quo vadis: How can I-O psychology assist with the management of natural disasters and climate change? The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 46(1), 71–3.