Learning from Disruption: 2021 ALNAP Meeting Study

Khan, A., Khan F. and Dewulf, A. with Obrecht, A. and Mitchell, J.
Publication language
Date published
30 Sep 2022
Research, reports and studies

This paper documents insights from the 2021 ALNAP Meeting, ‘Learning from disruption: Evolution, revolution, or status quo?’ Drawing on interviews, panel discussions and literature review, it looks at two external disruptors that have, to varying degrees, dominated conversations about change in the humanitarian system over the past two years: the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘decolonise aid’ debate.

The findings from this research suggest that since the start of 2020, the international humanitarian system has experienced disruption because of and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that parts of the system have demonstrated positive shifts towards greater localisation, flexible funding, inter-agency coordination and resource pooling, and care for staff mental wellbeing. However, this picture is not consistent across the system, nor do all these changes look set to be long lasting.

Considering the insights gathered in the lead up to and during the meeting, the paper suggests six distinct stories of disruption that have emerged since 2020:

  1. Short-term adaptation is followed by a return to ‘business as usual’.
  2. Less radical, short-term adaptation is embedded into new ways of working.
  3. Disruption is harnessed to accelerate existing change processes.
  4. The areas more likely to see fast, evolutionary change seem to be those benefiting from the rapid uptake of technologies that align most closely with the interests of organisations.
  5. Disruption has the potential to spark long-term adaptation in areas where little progress has been made over the years.
  6. Recent disruptions underscore the need for more transformative rather than slow, incremental change in the face of emerging disruptions from climate change.