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.
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PHR partners Clinical Officer Sylvester Mesa and Senior Nursing Officer Emily Kiragu testing MediCapt at Kenya's Naivasha Hospital. Credit: Adriane Ohanesian/PHR.

In 2023, gender-based violence (GBV) remains one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. Each year, around 245 million women and girls over the age of 15 experience intimate partner violence (IPV), and more than 4 in 5 women and girls live in countries without substantial legal protections against violence (UN Women). Part of the pervasive nature of GBV comes from a lack of investment, with less than 1% of total humanitarian funding aimed at tackling violence against women and girls.  

In solidarity with the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (25 November–10 December 2023) we’re calling for greater investment in and adoption of innovations and research aimed at improving humanitarian responses to GBV.  

Since September, our Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF) has hosted a series of four webinars showcasing pioneering new projects in this space, from a framework to address gender bias in humanitarian organisations, to an innovation delivering therapy for GBV survivors via virtual reality.  

Over 850 people registered for these webinars, demonstrating the real and growing interest in how research and innovation can offer solutions to measure, enrich or wholly reimagine how we tackle the biggest challenges facing GBV programmes. Find out about the innovations shared in the webinars in our round-up below, or explore more from our ongoing work to mitigate the impacts of GBV in humanitarian settings. 

During these 16 Days, if you can give 16 minutes every other day to watch the clips, you could learn about at least one approach that could have potential to change how you and your partners carry out your GBV programmes.

“Humanitarian innovation is about more than developing a new nutritional supplement, field-testing a water-filter or creating app. Innovation principles are being used by GBV actors to develop and share new approaches to addressing GBV in emergencies.

We promoted this webinar series as it brings academics and humanitarians together, showcasing new and effective solutions for survivors of gender-based violence. Sharing the challenges and successes of innovation projects through our global community of GBV experts helps to stimulate others’ creativity so they can bring innovation to their programmes too!”

– Sarah Martin, moderator of the global GBV Area of Responsibility’s Community of Practice.

Webinar 1: New approaches that target the knowledge-attitude-behaviour of GBV programme and clinical staff

Refugee women’s ability to decide for themselves

ARCHES is a brief clinic-based counselling intervention that’s been shown to reduce IPV and reproductive coercion (RC) and to promote women’s autonomy over their reproductive health choices. The health clinics in the Rohingya refugee camps of Bangladesh are a world apart from the American family planning centres in which ARCHES was first developed, but the challenging adaptation was accelerated through a participatory user-centred design process, which engaged local stakeholders including clinicians and refugee women. The post-intervention outcomes showed that ARCHES can be quickly and effectively adapted to support women’s reproductive autonomy and help prevent GBV in emergency settings.   

Watch here

Our own gender biases – a gap that needs attention

This innovation focuses as much on organisational culture as it does on individual behaviour. It aims for systemic change by identifying and addressing gender bias within humanitarian agencies that run GBV programmes – a priority identified in our GBV gap analysisour GBV Gap Analysis: “there is insufficient support for international and national staff to recognise and address their internal biases around gender and power”.  

The innovation team developed a seven-point analytical framework to analyse gender bias and its consequences. The intervention led to over three-quarters of participating agencies reporting making organisational changes to address gender bias. As one participant in the project said, “We [now] have clear guidelines set… so that both men and women could have the opportunity to get exposed to fieldwork.” 

Watch here

Webinar 2: Using monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to improve GBV work

Measures to meet the Minimum Standards

This innovation recognises the importance of the global inter-agency minimum standards for GBV but notes the need for support to ensure that these standards are upheld in different contexts. A global team including local GBV responders in South Sudan and Myanmar co-created a user-friendly framework for developing locally relevant indicators for these standards. Involving frontline workers in the selection of indicators was a key success factor, and piloting the measures demonstrated that using the right indicators can lead to changes in practice and better adherence to the minimum standards.  

Watch here

A story of better outcomes for survivors

The second of our M&E innovations was presented through the story of Samira – a GBV responder who knows that personal data is highly sensitive but could be vital for improving her programmes. Samira’s story offers an entry point into understanding the importance of safe and actionable data and illustrates the value of measuring case management outcomes for GBV survivors. The method uses a simple, repeatable questionnaire to generate a standardised numerical wellbeing score. The resulting anonymised data can then be shared and analysed across agencies and responses. GBV responders wanting to adopt this standardised approach can use the step-by-step instructions in the GBVIMS and Primero companion guide.   

Watch here

Webinar 3: Applying cross-cutting methods to GBV

“With money, I’m the queen” – using cash in GBV case management can empower survivors

Cash transfer programming is hailed as a success in humanitarian innovation, ever-growing in scale and with the potential for application across many humanitarian response sectors. Our study on barriers to scaling humanitarian innovations attributes part of this success to the Cash Learning Partnership, and their commitment to developing an evidence base for cash assistance, raising awareness of its utility, and designing tools to build capacity. The projects presented in this webinar have developed new capacity-building tools and added to the evidence that cash can increase GBV survivors’ feeling of safety when used as part of case management. The guidance notes that effectively distributing cash to GBV survivors is not a standalone solution – it still needs to be delivered as part of comprehensive case management.  

Watch here

Self-interpreted storytelling for rapid, scalable info-gathering on GBV

Humanitarian data management is another stream of successful innovation. This presentation introduces sense-making and storytelling as a quick new way to gather data for informing GBV programmes, and follows a successful trial among migrants from Venezuela. The technique starts with someone recording a voice-note on a tablet in response to the open-ended question: “Share a story about what it’s like to be a woman or girl on the route you’ve travelled.” Next, the storyteller interprets their own story using simple sliding scales to transform the response into self-interpreted data. The process takes just a few moments and doesn’t ask any inflammatory or discomforting questions.

The result is a wealth of mixed-methods data: rapidly analysable quantitative data to indicate trends, and auto-transcribed qualitative data to illustrate them. Reflections on the process have been published in the British Medical Journal of Public Health.  

Watch here

Examples of self-interpretation interface. Picture credit: International Organization for Migration

Webinar 4: Using technology to drive change in GBV programming 

Using humanitarian-private partnerships to develop VR Exposure Therapy 

This project, funded by Innovation Norway’s Humanitarian Innovation Programme, shows the value of building partnerships with the private sector – in this case with pioneering virtual reality (VR) companies. The innovation uses therapeutic VR to help overcome shame, self-blame and social isolation among GBV survivors. Although the partnerships presented in the webinar are still at an early stage, it was clear from the audience’s reaction and interest, and the discussion surrounding this project, that VR might enable a variety of new approaches to address GBV in emergencies.   

Watch here

Using the digital tech revolution to improve forensic documentation and survivor-centred care  

MediCapt is an innovation that we have supported through our Journey to Scale accelerator grants. It comprises a software system and training package that improves clinicians documentation and storage of forensic reports of sexual violence. In this presentation, we heard how the co-creation process, and development of capacity-building tools and open-source coding have helped build scalability and sustainability into MediCapt, in a process that is digitally secure, trauma-informed, survivor-centred and ready to scale. 

Watch here

Find out more

Explore our 2021 Gap Analysis for insights on the most pressing challenges facing GBV programming in humanitarian settings.

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