CPAID Course

Public Authority and Humanitarianism Course 

The University of Johannesburg and the Centre for Public Authority and International Development at the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa at the London School of Economics and Political Science offered early- and mid- career humanitarian and development professionals a free eight week course on public authority and its application to key issues for the sector.

CPAID course

About the course

  • ‘Public authority’ refers to any kind of authority - from civil society organisations to community leaders and armed groups - that is beyond the immediate family and commands a degree of consent. 

  • The course covered why you need to be aware of how public authority is created and maintained in the places humanitarian and development organisations work. As well as the frameworks, techniques and research that can help to better understand and engage public authority to achieve sustainable outcomes.

  • The course’s first two days (24th and 25th April 2023) were held in-person at the University of Johannesburg. The course then moved to weekly online sessions focussing on different issues.

  • The course’s light touch learning materials consisted of videos, podcasts and readings. A short essay-based assessment was given at the end of the course and certificates of achievement awarded. Learning materials were grounded in the research of course conveners and largely focused on case studies.

Cpaid course 2


CPAID course 6

The course was organised with the following structure. 

Full workshop timetable

Week, topic and facilitators

What to expect

Week 1 - Introduction to Public Authority 

Professor Tim AllenProfessor Melissa ParkerDr Naomi PendleProfessor Nicole StremlauSamuel OlaniranDr Tom Kirk

During the two day in-person part of the course we will explore why humanitarian and development professionals need to be aware of how public authority is created and maintained in the places they work. We will cover ways of thinking about public authority, and efforts to engage it across a range of pressing issues.

Throughout we will encourage participants to share their experiences and insights, with a focus on peer-to-peer learning at the heart of the sessions.

Week 2 - Grassroots Organising, Protection and Public Authority

Dr Eliza Ngutuku

Grassroots and community-based actors are often key to protection against violence. This week will explore these actors' roles in protection and how they interact with other forms of public authority such as NGOs and the state.

Week 3 - Violence, Security and Public Authority

Dr Rebecca Tapscott

This week explores local-level security dynamics, including who can use coercion and how in different settings. We will dive into the complex and often murky relationships between state institutions like the police and military, and initiatives like vigilantism, community policing, and militias.

Week 4 - Epidemics and Public Authority

Dr Jonah Lipton

This week explores social and political responses to epidemics, and the workings of public authority during times of humanitarian emergency. It will deep-dive into the West African Ebola epidemic and the complex interplay between everyday life, humanitarian intervention, and public authority.

Week 5 - Public Authority in Anticipatory Humanitarian Action

Professor Nicole StremlauSamuel Olaniran

Humanitarian organisations are increasingly using AI and big data to predict crises and plan their responses. We will look at this in relation to two aspects of public authority - how researchers include information from public authorities into their model; and arising responses to crises can be communicated in humanitarian situations to, and through, public authorities.

Week 6 - Justice and Public Authority

Professor Anna Macdonald

This week will explore the politics and ethics of transitional justice in the absence of substantive political transitions. We will explore how different ideas and practices of justice, accountability, social order and reconciliation are promoted by a range of public authorities, from International Criminal Court prosecutors and multilateral agencies, to domestic state actors and local cultural and religious leaders.

Week 7 - Armed Groups and Public Authority

Professor Koen Vlassenroot

This week will explore how a public authority lens helps us to better understand the ambitions and conduct of  armed groups: they respond to collective needs and obligations; they share and reproduce social practices giving meaning to local society; and they are a dominant force in politics, resource control and social relations. We will look into governance mechanisms and strategies of armed groups, their use of a language of stateness to claim power, and their role as power brokers in conflict-affected societies.

Week 8 - Assessment

Course participants will be asked to write a 3000-word “policy essay” on how a public authority lens could inform their work. 


CPAID course 3


Photos by Tom Kirk.