The Halo Effect

Cognitive Biases I: A worrying issue

Many Humanitarian NGOs and Aid Workers exhibit various cognitive biases especially when it comes to security and risk management.

The Halo Effect describes how the perception of one aspect of an individual or organisation  influences the perception of their other aspects. For example, an attractive person may be perceived as morally correct or a manual labourer may be perceived as lacking intelligence. The effect can apply to organisations as much as to individuals.

There are many ramifications of the Halo Effect. With regard to NGO security, the commonest impact is the placement of people who have field experience in insecure contexts into positions of risk, or security, managers. It can also happen in the field. Often, the logistician is put in charge of managing all aspects of security including negotiating access and evaluating the effectiveness of security policies because they are skilled at one aspect of security management, namely practical implementation of security procedures.

More worryingly, some NGOs – including some of the largest, most prestigious – promote people into senior risk management positions on the basis of a few postings in insecure contexts. These people – all well-meaning and doing their best – often lack the fundamental knowledge and tools to develop effective security policies and procedures.

This situation is more common than not especially in Egalitarian NGOs and leads to unnecessarily high risks to the safety and security of humanitarian aid workers. Some of the reasons why the practice continues include the Gambler’s Fallacy, Conflicted Risk and another interpretation of the Halo Effect – Fundamental Attribution.

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