Innovations in international humanitarian action: ALNAP's 8th Review of Humanitarian Action

Ramalingam, B., Scriven, K. and Foley, C.
Publication language
Date published
13 Jul 2009
Research, reports and studies
Innovation, System-wide performance

The starting point of this ALNAP study is that much ongoing work in the realm of humanitarian learning and accountability does not seek to generate new and different ways of operating. Rather, it focuses on existing practices, policies and norms of behaviour, and involves detecting and correcting deviations and variances from these standards, or finding ways in which standard operating procedure can be better implemented. The focus is on incremental improvements in practices. Much humanitarian learning arguably focuses on single-loop learning at individual and group levels – hence the frequent ‘nothing new’ criticism.

Questioning existing practices, norms, policies and rationales can often lead to direct conflict with ongoing organisational processes. Such ‘generative learning’ is also inhibited by a growing culture of compliance and the rigid contractual nature of aid relationships, both of which push agencies to deliver according to pre-defined goals, methods and targets.