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...


Continuously monitor the difference we make through our grants and wider work, identifying and addressing problems, and seizing opportunities.


Use evaluation to periodically reflect on our overall direction of travel, re-assessing our assumptions and asking ourselves difficult – even uncomfortable – questions.


Distil robust data to demonstrate our accountability towards the communities we serve, our partners, and our funders.


Systematically generate learning that will inform our own work, as well as ongoing reflection and debates in humanitarian practice.

As a leading funder of research and innovation for the humanitarian community, we are committed to ‘walk the talk’ to ensure that our own MEAL system, processes and tools are fit for purpose to achieve and demonstrate impact.

The following key principles underpin our approach to MEAL:

Embracing complexity and ‘out of the box’ thinking.

Multiple layers of complexity come into play when we try to assess the impact of research and innovation on humanitarian practice. Research and innovation achieve impact through non-linear and iterative pathways and timescales that are typically longer than any one intervention and are not easily captured by quantitative indicators. In most cases, we will only be able to demonstrate contribution to impact, rather than straightforward attribution. These challenges are compounded by the fact that, as a funder, we work mostly through our grantees rather than directly. This means that the impacts we deliver will always be the result of collective effort and can never be claimed as ours alone.

But we embrace this complexity as an integral aspect of our approach to MEAL. We see ourselves as part of an extended community of practice that is reflecting on new ways to understand, define and measure the impact of research and innovation. We are invested in ensuring that creativity and innovation – approaches at the very core of Elrha – are reflected in the way we think about impact and in the methods we use to assess it.

Understanding how impact ‘adds up’.

Through our funding of research and innovation, we are well-placed to influence the humanitarian ecosystem. But having consistent, reliable and good quality data from the grants we fund is only the first step in the process. Our MEAL system needs to have rigorous methods for data aggregation, synthesis and analysis, and for assessing impact at the macro level. Because, while individual innovations can have important local-level impact, wider and longer-term efforts are needed for sustained change and a shift in the paradigms of humanitarian practice. Furthermore, our MEAL system must enable us to understand and assess our overall impact as an organisation, across research and innovation, so that we can be ‘greater as a whole than the sum of our (programme) parts’.

Being context-aware.

We fund research and innovation in a wide range of crisis contexts, including some of the most acute, protracted and complex emergencies worldwide. MEAL in these contexts poses enormous conceptual, practical and ethical challenges, ranging from the limited availability of good quality data, to safety and safeguarding considerations. We give our grantees the guidance and space they need to design and implement MEAL processes that are ethical, proportionate, and context-appropriate. This won’t always be straightforward – we recognise that in any given context/setting, specific, appropriate approaches may mean other elements of MEAL are compromised, particularly in terms of the feasibility of data aggregation and reporting. But we are committed to being open and upfront with our funders and partners in navigating these inevitable tensions.

Diversity, inclusion, and a commitment to shifting the power.

Our MEAL system embodies our organisational commitment to shifting the power. We are acutely aware that MEAL is not neutral. The way in which impact is defined and measured is inherently and inevitably political, reflecting power structures and dynamics, and the positionality of those involved in the process. Data collection methods can often be top-down and extractive, particularly under compressed timelines. Recognising these issues is the first step. The next is our promise to constructively engage with our funders, partners, and grantees to shape MEAL processes that are truly inclusive and that celebrate diversity of perspectives and ‘ways of knowing’.

Becoming a learning organisation.

We are committed to never being ‘too busy to learn’. We encourage open feedback from our partners and grantees, and we make time and space for internal reflection at critical times. Our systems will actively capture learning and use it to continuously improve our own practice.

Read our 2023-2040 Strategy

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

Access the the full strategy.

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