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...

Please note that this opportunity has now closed. Find out about our current and previous funding opportunities.

The problem

Generating evidence is challenging in humanitarian settings. Time pressures often mean that immediate response is prioritised over research; and contextual factors such as rapidly changing and unstable environments, dynamic flows of people, and lack of access due to security concerns add to the list of risks researchers must manage.

Yet evidence is key to driving the sustainable and ethical uptake of innovation. This is especially the case in the humanitarian sector, where new tools, approaches or services can have a direct impact on the health, dignity and well-being of populations affected by crisis.

Evidence required for scaling innovation is often thought about in terms of impact (or effectiveness). But evidence is defined by its use: the questions that need to be answered and who is asking these questions. While measuring effectiveness is key at certain points in the innovation lifecycle, research that assesses other elements such as the acceptability, usability, cost, efficiency, feasibility or sustainability of solutions might, at other points, be just as relevant.

While a growing number of resources offer frameworks for assessing evidence requirements, choosing appropriate methods to gather evidence, and determining the quality of evidence, there are still substantial gaps in the quantity and quality of evidence for humanitarian WASH interventions.

The Challenge

We are looking for robust research studies that generate practical, comparative evidence around HIF-funded WASH innovations.

The evidence will be useful for both the innovations themselves and the humanitarian sector as a whole. These studies need to be collaborations between WASH innovators, researchers and humanitarian agencies.

This Innovation Challenge aims to create:

  1. Evidence to enable scaling. While our WASH portfolio includes a range of promising innovations, most of them are at pilot stage. We want to build further evidence around these and help the strongest innovations adapt, scale and play a part in addressing some of the most pressing challenges in humanitarian WASH.
  2. Innovative research and new evidence for the sector. Our ambition is to fund new, adaptive types of research appropriate for humanitarian innovation, to learn what works, and to add to the general evidence base of the humanitarian WASH sector.
  3. Partnerships for humanitarian research and innovation. We want to create a space for leading WASH humanitarian innovators, researchers and humanitarian agencies to define appropriate evidence needs for a WASH innovation together, and to provide a mandate for the research partner to lead the design of a robust process to collect this evidence.


For further information about the Challenge, criteria for applications, expected deliverables and timelines, as well as a glossary of key terms, please read the Challenge Handbook.

Read our WASH Evidence Challenge Handbook


How do I apply?

To apply for the Challenge, fill out the Expression of Interest (EOI) via our Common Grants Application platform.

Who is eligible to apply for the Challenge?

To be eligible to apply for the Challenge, proposals must:

  • Include at least one current or previous HIF-funded WASH innovation. Most eligible projects appear in our WASH Catalogue. (R2HC-funded studies are not eligible for this Challenge). The chosen HIF WASH innovation should have completed at least one pilot in at least one humanitarian setting.
  • Include a partnership made up of at least one of each of the following: a HIF-funded WASH innovation, an academic or research institution, and an operational humanitarian partner committed to testing the innovation in a humanitarian setting.
    • If the innovation was originally developed by, or partly by, an academic institution, this institution can apply as the ‘HIF innovator’ partner in this Challenge, but must have an additional academic or research institution as a partner. This is to ensure the reliability and validity of the research and mitigate bias.
    • If the innovation was originally developed by, or partly by, an operational humanitarian partner, this organisation can apply as the ‘HIF innovator’ partner in this Challenge, but must have an additional operational humanitarian organisation as partner. This humanitarian operational partner must be a separate organisation and can’t be a different country office for the same organisation. This is to broaden the uptake pathways for the innovation.

Any of the partners applying can be the formal lead applicant. However, while innovators, research institutions and humanitarian agencies are expected to work together on defining the evidence needs of the innovation that would help it to adapt and scale, the research partner is expected to lead on designing and carrying out the research. We encourage confirmed project partners to develop their proposal as a team. Collaborations with local partners are encouraged.

Contain a comparative element for the research.

For further information about eligibility requirements and success criteria, see Challenge Handbook

Why is this Challenge open only to past and present HIF WASH grantees and those interested in partnering with them?

We want to ensure that the priority WASH problems we have identified are addressed at scale.

Our HIF WASH work is entirely problem-led. Since 2013, we have invested in a rich body of research around problems, been advised by sector experts on which problems to focus on, and designed Innovation Challenges specifically to address these problems. Over the past six years, we have funded over 40 WASH innovations, ranging from soap alternatives to surface water drainage guidance and rapid community engagement approaches. Most of these innovations are at the pilot stage, and many have demonstrated potential to address key problems in the sector. Yet, ‘breaking through’ this pilot stage and gaining wider uptake is a core challenge innovators face.

Through this Challenge, we will help our strongest WASH innovations adapt, improve and begin the journey to scale. This way, we can contribute towards turning the WASH sector’s investment in innovation into real impact on the ground.

What types of evidence will you fund?

Primarily, we are interested in evidence that can facilitate learning and help innovators improve and scale and/or replicate their innovation in other humanitarian settings or with other agencies. As a secondary outcome, we are interested in evidence that can add value to the wider WASH sector.

Key types of evidence and research questions could include, but are not limited to:

  • Efficacy – Does the innovation work as intended in highly controlled circumstances?
  • Effectiveness – Does the innovation lead to a measurable improvement in the relevant humanitarian outcomes?
  • Sustainability – Did the innovation maintain measurable changes in behaviour, health or the environment over time? Did the innovation remain functional over time? What are the maintenance, repair, training or other long-term costs and requirements?
  • Feasibility and fidelity – Was the innovation delivered as intended? Were there elements that were not possible to conduct in different contexts? Why? What components must be in place for the innovation to have an effect?
  • Usability and acceptability – Do people/humanitarians use the innovation as intended? Do users like the innovation and why? Is the innovation inclusive?
  • Efficiency and cost – How much does it cost to use the innovation? If relevant, does the innovation offer savings compared to alternative options (consider not just direct costs, but other costs such as staff or user time or other resources)? How does the cost compare to the outcomes (eg, in terms of health, environment or behaviour)?

Cost efficiency may not always be relevant to measure (eg, in cases where there has been no alternative solution to a problem).

For further information, see Challenge Handbook

What is the total funding for the Challenge?

We have a total budget of 950,000 GBP for this Challenge.

From this, we envisage funding a selection of research studies with varying budgets and duration. Grant payments will be made in instalments throughout the grant period.

The proposed budgets and project durations should align with the level of ambition of each individual project within the Challenge parameters. Each project will be assessed on its own merit, value for money and potential for impact.

What can and can’t be covered by the grant funding?

We can fund

  • implementation costs (including shipment) and project activities
  • material costs (ie, the production or development of the innovation)
  • innovation adaptation costs (ie, costs associated with any iterations informed by the research)
  • publication costs for research outputs
  • project-related staff salaries
  • project-related travel expenses.

We can’t fund

  • retrospective costs
  • loan repayments
  • running costs that are not related to the project
  • non-project-related materials or activities
  • standard humanitarian programming that is not related to the chosen innovation
  • construction of permanent structures.

Further information will be shared in our Eligible Cost guide during the later stages of application.

What are the timelines for the Challenge?

The Challenge launches on 19 November 2019. The deadline for Expressions of Interest (EOIs) is 24 January 2020 at 23:59 GMT.

There will be an optional webinar for interested applicants on 5 December 2019, 14:30-16:00 GMT. The webinar will discuss frameworks and tools for assessing evidence needs for innovations and how to design adaptive research to address these. The webinar will be recorded and available on the Challenge website.

Shortlisted projects will be notified in the week commencing 10 February 2020.

For further information about the application process and timelines, see Challenge Handbook

How will applications be assessed?

Full proposals will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  1. Comparative research – studies should include a comparative element that will generate relevant evidence for the chosen WASH innovation
  2. Collaborative approach – strong, curiosity-driven and thoughtful collaboration between WASH innovators, researchers and humanitarian agencies
  3. Appropriate types of evidence –  relevant and robust evidence that can both inform the further development and uptake of WASH innovations as well as broader humanitarian practice
  4. Appropriate research methods – robust and feasible approach to gathering evidence
  5. Adaptive research design – research methods that allow innovators to adapt their innovations in a flexible way as insights are gathered, without sacrificing the integrity of the research and its results
  6. Ethical approach – studies must consider the range of ethical implications of their proposed research method and project and how to mitigate any risks
  7. Intersectional approach – research study design should consider inclusivity and intersectionality when it comes to the access and use of the innovation, as well as data collection
  8. Uptake of research findings – robust and engaging research uptake activities to influence change in policy and practice within the humanitarian sector.

For a detailed explanation of each criterion and an overview of the evaluation process, please read the Challenge Handbook.

Still have questions?

We’re here to help. For any questions that are not covered by the Challenge Handbook  or this FAQ section, please email us at, referencing ‘Evidence Challenge’ in the subject line.

WASH Evidence Challenge Webinar

If you missed our webinar on 5 December, you can watch it below.

In this webinar, we share:

  • an overview of WASH Evidence Challenge,
  • an introduction to evidence and innovation,
  • why evidence is important for WASH innovation,
  • explore key challenges and pitfalls around generating evidence,
  • answer some frequently asked questions.
Play video
A schoolboy with his finished puppet at Ndurarua Primary School. Credit: No Strings International

Find out more about our WASH innovations

Our WASH Innovation Catalogue contains most of the current or previous HIF-funded projects eligible for funding in this Challenge. Read through to find the WASH project you're most interested in and then use the contact details listed inside to get in touch. Your chosen HIF innovation should have completed at least one pilot in at least one humanitarian setting. Please note: the Catalogue also includes R2HC-funded studies (in the section 'Other Elrha WASH Projects'). These are not eligible for this Challenge.

Read our WASH Innovation Catalogue

Helpful Tools & Research

Tool Innovation Management

Humanitarian Innovation Guide

Report Water, sanitation & hygiene

Gap Analysis in Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion

Video Water, sanitation & hygiene

Voices of WASH: What support helped your innovation?

Subscribe to our newsletters....

Elrha © 2018 - 2024 Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110). KEEP IN TOUCH Want to stay up to date with our latest updates? Sign up to our newsletters
Elrha Please upgrade your browser

You are seeing this because you are using a browser that is not supported. The Elrha website is built using modern technology and standards. We recommend upgrading your browser with one of the following to properly view our website:

Windows Mac

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of browsers. We also do not intend to recommend a particular manufacturer's browser over another's; only to suggest upgrading to a browser version that is compliant with current standards to give you the best and most secure browsing experience.