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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Our vision: By 2040, critical humanitarian problems are effectively addressed through long-term, focused and collective research and innovation efforts that are well-resourced, coordinated and equitable.

The space and demand for research and innovation within the humanitarian system has been growing. But there remain deep structural barriers that are limiting the impact of our work.

Research and innovation investment is heavily fragmented. There are broken pathways to uptake, and duplication in investments. And serious inequality in funding flows means that funding and decision-making power remains in the hands of actors from high-income countries, far from where humanitarian crises are experienced.

Short-term funding cycles remain dominant in our funding culture. Over the years this has led to a plethora of projects at the early stage of innovation processes and research projects that produce results that are specific and difficult to replicate.

For research and innovation to deliver greater impact, there needs to be predictable and reliable funding that supports long-term collaborative partnerships. Because these are the partnerships that can find, test and run with ideas, taking them from early concept through to widespread adoption. They’re partnerships that allow for greater ambition in the scope of research and innovation. They build shared ownership of problems and generate appetite for the development and uptake of new evidence and solutions.

There is urgent need to build better research and innovation funding pathways and programmes – ones that support locally-led action and that invest in sustainable research and innovation capacity in regions vulnerable to crisis. Alongside this we must develop new knowledge and skills to support responsible practice. Many of the research and innovation approaches used in the humanitarian system are adapted from the private and public sectors and are not always a good fit for the unique challenges and vulnerabilities that humanitarian crises create. For our practice to evolve, we need to develop approaches and knowledge that have been designed and tested for our unique contexts and communities.


We will

use our research and innovation funding to deliver robust solutions to priority needs, working hard to ensure that positive differences are made for people affected by crises.

  • use our unique position as a funder of research and innovation to put their combined creative potential to best use in the challenges we work on.
  • work with our funding partners to create research and innovation programmes that respond to the priorities and needs of people affected by crises, and of the humanitarian response community.
  • invest in robust problem exploration, using rigorous and participatory approaches to ensure we address challenges appropriately and ethically, informed by the experiences of those they affect.
  • carry out systematic reviews of the evidence and practice landscape to ensure we are addressing weaknesses and gaps in the evidence base.
  • champion inclusive and collaborative research and innovation, mainstreaming effective approaches across our grant portfolio and sharing our learning and tested approaches with others.

We will

support ‘end-to-end’ research and innovation pathways.

  • address the partial and fragmented pathways from early development into sustainable adoption, so that our research and innovation programmes have greater opportunity to deliver impact.
  • foster dynamic and equitable collaborations, using our funding to bring together expertise from across our networks to develop new evidence and progress ideas.
  • work with humanitarian actors and the funding community to strengthen uptake pathways and improve the funding pipelines needed to support the later stages of implementation and adoption at scale.
  • continue to care about the long-term impact of our grants after our funding relationship has ended, providing after-grant support and, where possible, tracking results over time.

We will

work with humanitarian actors to improve the incorporation of evidence and solutions into standards, policies and humanitarian practice at national and global levels.

  • build relationships with key quality assurance mechanisms in humanitarian practice to encourage the inclusion of new evidence in routine standard-setting processes.
  • make evidence needs and gaps more visible, so that research and innovation communities can better target their efforts.
  • work to increase access to available evidence to support robust decision-making by humanitarian donors and actors.
  • continue to develop our own communications, improving the way we package and present evidence to meet the needs of policy-making and practitioner communities.

We will

invest in the development of knowledge, skills and practices, to help our sector evolve.

  • invest in new research and partnerships to support the development of research and innovation knowledge and skills within the humanitarian system, with a particular focus on ethical, equitable and inclusive practice.
  • ensure all our grantees receive a tailored support package that helps them in their work on high-quality and impactful projects.
  • share evidence and learning from our funded programmes on relevant, accessible platforms, making sure we reach beyond the traditional channels to increase engagement throughout our community.
  • be open and honest about our successes and our failures, and share our learning as we progress.

For research and innovation to deliver greater impact, there needs to be predictable and reliable funding that supports long-term collaborative partnerships.


Our vision: By 2040, long-term funding commitments and a globally recognised coordination system for humanitarian research and innovation are in place that are equitable and effective at delivering improvements in humanitarian response to acute and complex crises.

We believe that research and innovation must deliver greater impact in acute and complex crises where humanitarian needs are greatest. These contexts demand the highest standards of care and responsibility; research and innovation must be ethical, appropriate and responsive to needs. To successfully address the most challenging humanitarian problems, there needs to be deep commitment from research and innovation actors and funders to listen to and coordinate with communities affected by crises and with humanitarian actors.

The humanitarian system has all the necessary components to drive a responsive and coordinated approach to research and innovation, but hasn’t yet joined them up. As a community, we’re falling short of our potential because:

  • We don’t have effective ways to arrange and facilitate coordination between the users, producers and funders of research and innovation.
  • There is no consensus on the most critical areas of humanitarian response that need the attention of research and innovation partnerships.
  • The priorities of people affected by crises are too often marginal to the decisions that determine research and innovation investments.
  • Short-term funding models dominate research and innovation investments, which result in programmes that are fragmented and that struggle to become widely adopted.
  • Systems to support the adoption of new evidence and solutions into practice are weak.
  • It is difficult to demonstrate the collective impact that research and innovation investments make.

But there is every reason to be positive. Our research shows there is strong demand for improved coordination on research and innovation at every level of the humanitarian system. If we achieve this – and we are confident that we can – our efforts as a community will have far greater impact.

We’ll achieve more with the resources we have. Our open, inclusive and cohesive system will allow actors from outside the traditional humanitarian community to more effectively participate, bringing their expertise and capabilities to bear on the issues we care about.

Ultimately, our efforts will demonstrate that research and innovation can improve humanitarian action; helping save more lives, reduce suffering, and support the dignified recovery of people affected by crises.

This Strategy will help us get there, by strengthening the systems that support research and innovation within humanitarian practice and identifying and challenging inequities of power that hold back our sector’s potential.

What we will do:

We will

work to bring actors together from across the system to co-develop mechanisms that support us all to be more strategic and impactful.

  • facilitate a community of actors that are committed to the development of an effective and equitable coordination framework for research and innovation in the humanitarian system.
  • work with governments and the wider funding community to support their work on humanitarian research and innovation. We’ll do this by generating new data and research, tailored to their decision-making needs, and convening meetings to facilitate collective action, share learning and pilot new approaches.
  • provide relevant information, and convene opportunities that enable new actors from across research communities and the private sector to work in meaningful partnership with humanitarian actors.

We will

generate new data to track the performance of humanitarian research and innovation and inform effective priority setting.

  • continue to monitor and map research and innovation activity across the humanitarian system.
  • support the development of equitable priority-setting processes, documenting priority needs for communities affected by crises and for humanitarian response actors.
  • improve systems to track investments in humanitarian research and innovation and we’ll monitor the way in which funds are used to respond to recognised priorities.

We will

work to create greater equity throughout the system by building stronger relationships with regional and national coordination bodies and actors in low- and middle-income countries.

  • champion leadership from crises-affected regions in priority-setting and decision-making processes.
  • facilitate dialogue and partnership with key regional research and innovation communities and coordination bodies. We’ll work with them to achieve greater recognition and alignment of humanitarian research and innovation priorities within regional and national frameworks and strategies.
  • advocate for equitable funding and partnerships for research and innovation actors from low- and middle-income countries, highlighting good practices within the system.

There is strong demand for improved coordination on research and innovation at every level of the humanitarian system.

Read our 2023-2040

You can also read, download and share our strategy in full as an online booklet.

Access the the full strategy.

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