The humanitarian sector is often criticised for being too top-down and for failing to meet the needs and priorities of crisis-affected people. At the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul in 2016, humanitarians came together around seven principles, one of which was ‘Working differently to end need’. The WHS resulted in a series of commitments that included the Grand Bargain’s ‘participation revolution’, which promised that people receiving aid should be involved in making decisions that affect their lives.
‘Innovation’ became a rallying cry for new initiatives, organisations and funding promises. Yet, three years on, the sector has been slow to prioritise and support local leadership or to create systems that allow people affected by disaster to have a hand in shaping innovations within their own communities. A recent research paper suggests that only 33% of humanitarian innovators consult with affected populations during their innovation processes.
The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs is a diverse network of national and international humanitarian organisations, set up to identify and grow areas of innovation that come directly from communities affected by crises. The first phase of the programme was launched in 2017 and ended in 2019. The labs drew on the HCD tradition, with the aim of developing more responsive and locally-led humanitarian and preparedness programming. Labs in four countries worked with local entrepreneurs to design and develop innovations. By finding meaningful ways to include affected people in the process, they aimed to create better products and services that would improve disaster preparedness within the community. While all of the innovations in the labs were designed with disaster-affected community members as the primary users, the innovators engaged in the process fell into two groups:
This paper is based on semi-structured interviews with three innovation managers, four lab managers, ten innovators and four volunteers involved in the DEPP Labs programme. The report also draws on a review of relevant literature from the fields of both humanitarian and social innovation.
The paper begins with a brief discussion of important terms and concepts and describes the way HCD has been used within humanitarian processes so far. Chapter 2 describes the HCD process and the benefits and considerations that were important at each stage. Chapter 3 turns to the common considerations and lessons that emerged from the labs and will be relevant for other programmes implementing an HCD process. These included the approaches to building trust, decision-making, power dynamics, stress and sustainability. In each case we explore approaches taken by the different examples included in the study, areas of learning, and the dynamics that are important within community-centred innovation processes. The paper ends with conclusions and a discussion of the outstanding questions. Available in Arabic