Assessing the promise of innovation for improving humanitarian performance: A 10-year review for the State of the Humanitarian System report

Komuhangi, C., Mugo, H., Tanner, L. and Gray, I.
Publication language
Date published
16 Oct 2023
Research, reports and studies

While each The State of the Humanitarian System (SOHS) report since the 2012 edition has looked at innovation in the humanitarian system, the three-or four-year study periods used by the SOHS reports are too short to allow for a more considered exploration of the trajectory, trends and impacts of innovation practices in the system. To attempt to capture and reflect these more accurately, the 2022 edition dedicated additional resource to this complementary piece of research examining humanitarian innovation and its impact in more depth over the period 2011–2021.

In 2011, innovation was being widely embraced as a potential answer to many of the humanitarian system’s performance challenges. Organisations argued that investing in innovation systems similar to those in the private and development sectors would deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness and transform the way the humanitarian system operated.

The profile of humanitarian innovation has grown since then.1 Millions of dollars have been invested in thousands of innovations, hundreds of organisations and tens of funds. This report explores the contribution of these innovations to the performance of the humanitarian system. We begin with a brief description of the data and literature that we used. In Section 3, we explore the key events and trends that shaped humanitarian innovation over the last decade, with a particular focus on the study period of 2018–2021. In Section 4 we unpick innovation funding: who gets funded, what innovations have been supported, where, why, and how is funding and support provided. Section 5 outlines the different ways in which innovation has contributed to humanitarian performance. A brief discussion at the end explores the implications of the trends and outcomes that have been identified.