The challenges facing international humanitarian action are growing in scale, scope and complexity. According to UNOCHA, nearly 150 million people were affected by a combination of natural disasters, wars and conflicts in 2013, and the number of people needing assistance as a result has more than doubled over the last decade. International humanitarian agencies are already struggling to meet these growing and increasingly complex needs. Without concerted effort, the gap between what is needed and what is provided is likely to grow in the coming years and decades.
Against this context, many are calling for radical changes to both what humanitarian actors do and how they do it. Such changes have been called for in the past, of course, especially in the wake of high profile humanitarian failures in Rwanda, the Indian Ocean tsunami, and Haiti. But the current context of growing global needs is creating a ‘burning platform’ scenario for the sector. Put simply: humanitarians must adapt in order to maintain their relevance, reputation and impact.
An increasing number of humanitarian agencies and researchers recognise the need for such change, and have embraced ideas and principles of innovation. Their efforts have:
- raised the importance of innovation for achieving humanitarian goals
- showcased and communicated numerous examples of successful innovation
- generated specific initiatives to facilitate innovation and
- helped to build understanding of the innovation process in the sector.
Innovation is increasingly understood as a dynamic process involving search and discovery, invention and selection, implementation and testing, and scaling. It is seen as taking place within a complex system shaped by multiple actors, factors and interactions. This emerging body of work has provided the intellectual and operational foundations for the present research.
A two-year-long programme of research for the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) has helped to extend these initial efforts by conducting an empirically based examination of the Humanitarian Innovation Ecosystem.