Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
Our purpose is clear: we work in partnership with a global community of humanitarian actors, researchers and innovators to improve the quality of humanitarian action and deliver better outcomes for people affected by crises.
We empower the humanitarian community. Find out how we can support you...

What's our strategy all about?

This quick video gives an insight into the change we want to see in the humanitarian sector and how we hope to get there.

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Our strategy

Our 2019-23 strategy sets out a new ambitious direction for us. It’s outcome focused: it positions us as a key influencer, effectively coordinating our programmes, guidance and experience on research, innovation and partnerships to understand and address some of the most complex humanitarian problems.

Our new strategy is true to our guiding principles. It builds on our success and expertise and represents a responsible and exciting evolution of our work to date.

There is a need for humanitarian research and innovation.

We believe research and innovation should be central to global efforts to improve humanitarian response. We know that sectors that consistently invest in research and development are proven to be more productive and adaptive than those that don’t. However, spend on research and development in the humanitarian sector remains low.

Our work has been at the forefront of practice in the system…

Over the last decade, we have supported over 200 research studies and innovation projects to successfully and responsibly carry out research and innovation in the sector. Over the next five years, we will continue to lead the way by tackling bigger, more complex challenges and by working together with others to grow and develop the wider research and innovation ecosystem.

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Our Vision

We want to see a world equipped to mitigate the impact of humanitarian crises.

We want to contribute to a global community where humanitarian actors at all levels are prepared to respond effectively and efficiently when a crisis happens. They will be equipped with the latest evidence of ‘what works’, and they’ll routinely use cutting-edge solutions. As a result, people affected by crises will get the right help when they need it most.

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The change we want to see

If our vision is to be realised, there needs to be a change in the way we all work:

Credit: Jesuit Refugee Services


This means: donors and governments will only want to fund humanitarian interventions that are underpinned by robust evidence, and where this is not possible due to gaps in the evidence base, they will commit to funding research to address the most critical gaps.

Credit: Age International


We want to see that the right people are equipped with the skills and knowledge to adopt ’what works’ into policy and practice.

This means: evidence and solutions will be tested in different contexts and will be accessible to the full diversity of the humanitarian community.

Community meeting in Karachi spreading messaging about safe reactions to extreme heat. Research led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Credit: Elrha


We want to see that the right people and the wider humanitarian community have the right motivations and incentive structures to adopt ‘what works’ into policy and practice. We also want a supportive environment for research and innovation stakeholders.

This means: the humanitarian community – from the donor to the responder – will increasingly professionalise the relationship between evidence and practice. As a result, research and innovation will become normalised within the humanitarian system, rather than be a ‘nice to have’ extra.

Credit: Microjustice4All Peru


We want to see that the right people coordinate and adopt evidence and solutions of ‘what works’ into locally adapted guidance.

This means: system coordination mechanisms, such as the humanitarian clusters will take responsibility for supporting the access and uptake of ‘what works’ at all levels. This includes absorbing it into organisation-level guidance or ensuring adaption at local level, so guidance is consistent across the humanitarian system and responsive to those affected by humanitarian crises

Credit: Jesuit Refugee Services

We recognise that these changes are outside our direct control, but we will work in collaboration with our stakeholders to make change happen in these areas and to encourage others to support us in our mission.

What we do

Our strategy is made up of four interconnected areas of work. Collectively, they maximise the potential for research and innovation to achieve change and transform the effectiveness of humanitarian response:


We identify and prioritise the most pressing problems within humanitarian response and plan the research and innovation approaches needed to tackle them.

We will be solution-focused, even where problems are at their most complex. We will deepen our understanding around both the context of those problems and the needs of those who are affected by them. In developing new evidence and solutions, we will continue to collaborate with others so that efforts are coordinated around our key focus areas.


We invest in the right people to research, explore, develop, and test the solutions to these problems.

We will continue to fund the highest quality research and innovation programmes in the humanitarian system. We will use our experience and expertise supporting over 200 research studies and innovation projects to make sure our funded work has the highest chance of success.


We create and share practical tools and guidance based on evidence of ‘what works’.

We will systematically collect evidence on study findings and effective innovation solutions from across the humanitarian community. We will develop tools and guidance based on what we’ve learnt from carrying out research and innovation in humanitarian contexts. These will be made available in user-friendly, accessible and appropriate formats.


We empower the humanitarian community to adopt ‘what works’.

We will support projects from start to finish, focusing on ensuring maximum impact. We will engage early and regularly with key influencers and decision makers at global and national levels to ensure their involvement and commitment from the very beginning – a crucial component of success in this area.

Looking ahead

Those ‘Four Ds’ – our primary areas of work – will lead us over the next five years. We will report against them, noting what we’ve achieved in each area and how this is affecting the changes we want to see.

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