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Innovation in humanitarian action

In recent years there has been a steady increase in interest and activity around innovation in the humanitarian sector. But what does innovation look like in humanitarian response? What are the practices organisations can adopt to be more innovative? How can they ensure their innovations are a success?

Our research on innovation answers answer these questions. Working with ELRHA, ALNAP spent the last year looking at 15 different case studies of humanitarian innovation funded by ELRHA's Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) grants. From the findings, we have developed the first report to outline what innovation in humantiarian action is, and how it can be done better.

NEW Report on innovation in humanitarian action

More than just luck: innovation in humanitarian action

The new report looks at three central questions:

1. What is innovation in humanitarian action?

2. What does a successful humanitarian innovation process look like?

3. What are the factors that enable success in innovation management in the humanitarian system?

Read full report

 

The outputs of this research are aimed at humanitarian organisations interested in using innovative practices to improve their performance, as well as organisations outside the humanitarian sector, such as academic institutions or private companies, seeking to engage in innovation in humanitarian action.

WATCH Innovating humanitarian action: launch 

To launch the new report and the upcoming edition of HPN's Humanitarian Exchange magazine, ALNAP, the HIF and HPN brought together grassroots innovators and leading humanitarians to discuss how to channel the momentum gathering behind humanitarian innovation and shape the future of the sector.

Wendy Fenton | Coordinator, Humanitarian Practice Network (HPN)       Jemilah Mahmood | Under Secretary General for Partnerships, IFRC
Alice Obrecht | Research Fellow, ALNAP                                                         Kim Scriven | Manager, Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF)
Rebecca Petras | Deputy Director, Translators Without Borders

 

 

Case studies on innovation in humanitarian action: 

Each case study explores the dynamics of successful innovation processes, culminating in a unique and in-depth study on innovation in humanitarian action. Our aim is to improve understanding of innovation processes in the humanitarian system and thereby support innovative humanitarian programming.

 

Standardising humanitarian data for a better response: The Humanitarian eXchange Language

This case study explores how OCHA led the innovation process in developing and testing HXL, a data standard which aims to facilitate the exchange and merging of data across agencies to create a more complete and accurate operational picture of a crisis.

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Mapping a response: Using satellite images to aid humanitarian action

This case study describes Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), who create and provide maps to support humanitarian organisations in their response to conflict or natural disasters.

Read full case study

 

 

Improving menstrual hygiene management in emergencies

This case study explores IFRC’s innovation process in developing and testing a comprehensive relief item to meet more effectively and appropriately the menstrual hygiene needs of women and girls in emergencies.

Read full case study

 

 

Understanding the performance of emergency feeding programmes: Save the Children’s CMAM Report

This case study describes Save the Children UK's Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) Report, a technology-based product innovation designed to facilitate more reliable reporting of data on humanitarian response.

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Using mobile voice technology to improve the collection of food security data: WFP’s mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping

This case study looks at WFP’s innovation into Mobile Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (mVAM), a programme that integrates mobile technology, including SMS, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and live calls, into WFP’s established food security monitoring systems.

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Improving water quality and quantity in emergencies: The Inclined Plate Settler water treatment system

This case study describes how Université Laval, in partnership with Oxfam GB developed the Inclined Plate Settler kit, a water treatment system that increases the supply of water in an emergency, at a significantly reduced cost.

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A community financing mechanism for disaster risk reduction: The Bio-rights approach

This case study concerns a Bio-rights project carried out in partnership by CARE Netherlands and Wetlands International in western Guatemala. Bio-rights is a microcredit finance mechanism that unites community and ecosystem-based approaches to disaster risk reduction (DRR).

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Words of Relief: Translators without Borders' local language translation for emergencies

Words of Relief is a Translators without Borders (TWB) project designed to provide local language translation services to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), UN agencies and other actors during humanitarian response. The project included: an online multilingual library of location-specific disaster messages; a spider network of professional diaspora and community-based translators; the Words of Relief digital exchange

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Supporting disabled people in emergencies: Motivation’s appropriate and affordable wheelchairs

This case study describes how Motivation, in partnership with Handicap International (HI) and Johanniter International (JUH), developed a wheelchair and training package for use in emergency response contexts. The aim of the innovation process was to develop a wheelchair that would offer clear improvements over the donated orthopaedic wheelchairs currently used in emergencies.

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This is a joint research project with:

 


 

Previous case studies on innovation in humanitarian action: 

Hif case study: Gaza Risk Reduction and Mitigation

This case study explores the recent innovations made by Catholic Relief Services in its approach to providing assistance to vulnerable urban populations in the Gaza Strip. Its Gaza Risk Reduction and Mitigation project reflects an approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) that seeks to take into account the full and complex range of hazards in this unique humanitarian context, and the presence of non-state actors in de facto control of the territory.

Read full case study

HIF case study: SMS Feedback and Accountability in Somalia

This case study explores the development and implementation of an innovative, mobile phone-based feedback mechanism by the Danish Refugee Council in Somalia. In a complex conflict setting, characterised by major insecurity, lack of access for humanitarian actors, and limited civil participation in state structures, the project piloted the use of mobile phones and internet-based technologies to strengthen communication and feedback between beneficiaries, aid agencies, Somali communities, and the diaspora.

Read full case study

Hif case study: Mobile technology: Listening to the voice of Haitians

This case study analyses the innovative development and use of an Interactive Voice Response system for the first time in a humanitarian setting by the IFRC. Haiti’s 2010 earthquake was a major opportunity for international aid agencies to address the challenge of improving two-way communication with disaster-affected communities – a facility emphasised as central to emergency response following previous disasters.

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HIF case study: The humanitarian lessons-learned genome

This case study explores the development and implementation of the Humanitarian Genome Project, an innovation arising in the University of Groningen and developed in collaboration with humanitarian agencies. The Humanitarian Genome 1.0 was designed as the first version of a free, digital, open source and globally accessible application allowing humanitarian workers to quickly access evaluation data to inform their decision making.

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Our pilot Innovations Case Studies series, published between 2009-2011 showcased innovative solutions to problems faced in humanitarian responses and intended to help humanitarian actors capture and spread innovations more effectively across the sector.

 

Cash transfers through mobile phones: Concern

Kenya was the first country in the world to use mobile phones for cash transfers; through a service called M- PESA, developed by Safaricom Limited. Concern Worldwide has pioneered the use of M-PESA for emergency cash transfers in Kenya. This paper highlights Concern’s experience, which shows that despite initial software and logistical challenges, mobile phone technology offers a unique and empowering approach to efficiently deliver assistance to the most vulnerable people living in insecure and remote rural areas.

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Improving the quality of livelihoods response through livelihoods based standards: LEGS

Humanitarian interventions have historically focused on saving lives rather than livelihoods, and key livestock assets can be overlooked in the urgency of response. The Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) project aims to increase the quality of emergency response by promoting minimum standards for livestock- based interventions.

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Technology and partnering for social innovation: LMMS

World Vision and our Information Technology (IT) partners have developed innovative software for use on robust mobile computers to meet an unmet need in humanitarian applications. This Last Mile Mobile Solutions initiative is applied to field- based data collection, management and analysis processes in an effort to eliminate duplication, streamline business variations, and remove complexity. Results from the food- programming domain verified substantial benefits including a reduction in the time to generate key reports by 60% and a reduction in beneficiary pre-processing and verification times at aid distributions by approximately 75% (Carr, 2008).

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Supporting community-based emergency response at scale: innovations in the wake of Cyclone Nargis

This case study describes how appropriate support for local civil-society interventions following a rapid-onset emergency can enable very fast and responsive relief at a scale commensurate with needs. After the impact of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, local civil-society efforts were found to have greater penetration and much lower costs than conventional direct implementation by international agencies.

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Understanding shelter from the emergency through reconstruction and beyond: Transitional Shelter

Transitional Shelter is a pioneering approach to the provision of shelter in emergency response, recovery and reconstruction. People who are made homeless because of disaster or conflict need somewhere to live while they rebuild their houses, or find alternative accommodation. Shelter and reconstruction therefore happen in parallel, rather than consecutively. The approach of transitional shelter acknowledges that reconstruction takes usually between two and five years, but that a tent only lasts around one year.

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The Observatory of Aid Practice in Chad

This case study examines an innovative learning process making measurable improvements in the quality of assistance. The collective learning cycle structures the Observatory’s work – firstly analysing the context and identifying areas for improvement, secondly developing context-specific solutions, and thirdly promoting those solutions and facilitating change. The case study highlights how the Observatory has worked to overcome challenges to collective learning to support innovative thinking and innovation capture at field level.

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SMS Feedback and Accountability in Somalia: HIF Case Study

This case study explores the development and implementation of an innovative, mobile phone-based feedback mechanism by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) in Somalia. In a complex conflict setting, characterised by major insecurity, lack of access for humanitarian actors, and limited civil participation in state structures, the project piloted the use of mobile phones and internet-based technologies to strengthen communication and feedback between beneficiaries, aid agencies, Somali communities, and the diaspora.

Read full case study

Gaza Risk Reduction and Mitigation: HIF Case Study

This case study explores the recent innovations made by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in its approach to providing assistance to vulnerable urban populations in the Gaza Strip. Its Gaza Risk Reduction and Mitigation (GRRAM) project, implemented through the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), reflects an approach to disaster risk reduction (DRR) that seeks to take into account the full and complex range of hazards in this unique humanitarian context, and the presence of non-state actors in de facto control of the territory. CRS sought to develop a DRR project model that used participatory approaches to identify and address natural hazards as well as conflict risk, and sought to help communities develop their own mitigation strategies in a context where NGO actors could not work through local authorities.

Read full case study

 

 

 

 

 

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