Tools and Innovations for Humanitarian Response Contact Centres: Hotline in a Box

Organisation: Dalberg Design

Partners: International Committee of the Red Cross, International Federation of the Red Cross, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, International Organization for Migration, Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (World Food Programme), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Location: New York City. Field testing in Burundi

Type of grant: Core – development

Status: Ongoing

‘Hotline in a Box’ aims to improve the way humanitarian organisations set up hotlines or contact centres for various crises around the world, by providing open tools and guidance for setting up locally-relevant, low-cost hotlines in emergencies.

What is the humanitarian need?

Over the last three years, the humanitarian community has witnessed a proliferation of humanitarian hotlines and call centres. However, dozens have emerged in an ad hoc manner, without any human-centred tools or guidance, leaving behind little to no publicly available documentation on why and how they were set up, or if they achieved their intended purpose in a timely manner. Hotlines are also set up without first establishing whether they are the most appropriate, relevant and cost-effective means of disseminating information or dealing with feedback and complaints.

This has led to little track record of impact and an inability for organisations to reliably identify and use good practices, lessons learnt or existing tools. Tools and guidance are needed to improve coordination, capacity, purpose and performance.


‘Hotline in a Box’ aims to improve the way humanitarian organisations set up hotlines or contact centres for various crises around the world, by helping organisations determine when a contact centre could be a useful way to help affected people, and the most effective way to assess, coordinate, implement and evolve these crucial mechanisms. The project will deliver a global toolbox that includes guidelines, recommended processes and functional modules that can be adapted to different contexts and technologies.

The innovation of this project lies in both the practical tools and guidance it will create, but also the innovative and capacitive process. Led by a design studio, the team will engage a human-centred design approach, immersing and iterating on tools with experts and end users alike. This process yields tools that are collaboratively designed and whose utility is honed through rapid user feedback. Additionally, we will draw inspiration from within and outside of the humanitarian sector in the design of the kit and tools.

What are the expected outcomes?

This project is led by a design studio (Dalberg Design) in close collaboration with a robust team of humanitarian partners across a core working group and broader advisory board, crucial to stewarding these tools into the world. The project’s ultimate goal is to design and publish a set of globally applicable guidelines and a toolkit of modules, for the identification, deployment and management of future crisis contact centres. Over the course of virtual and field research and testing, this toolkit will produce:

  • an overview of the contact centre process, stages and archetypes
  • a base toolkit (‘minimum viable product’) that includes a range of tools, templates and resources such as:
    • getting started guidelines and visual checklist
    • defining your call centre template
    • coordination and referral pathways planning tool
    • CwC channel directory
    • case study template
    • crisis context consideration cards
    • evaluation and transition roadmap
  • launch, outreach and translation of v1 toolkit by humanitarian partner team
  • plan for ongoing prototyping and piloting amongst participating partner organisations.

Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110).

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