Stepping back: understanding cities and their systems

Working and discussion papers
October 2016

As part of our ongoing research into humanitarian response in urban environments, ALNAP's latest working paper Stepping back: understanding cities and their systems explores the nature of urban contexts, and the potential of systems thinking as a way to improve our understanding of urban spaces. It argues the importance of stepping back as a first step towards changing policy and practice.

The world we live in is increasingly urbanized; 54% of the world’s population now lives in an urban environment. Having developed to respond to crises in rural settings and refugee camps, the humanitarian sector today is unequipped to deal with the realities of urban contexts. Despite organisations adapting their approaches, and developing tools and pilots, fundamental gaps remain.

This working paper looks at the different systems and stakeholders that exist in urban areas, and outlines what is important for humanitarians to know when responding in complex urban environments.