Learning to be more 'locally-led'? Current practice and evidence gaps in the international humanitarian sector

Viswanathan, V.
Publication language
Date published
28 Nov 2023
Research, reports and studies
Local capacity, Partnerships, Change, National & regional actors

Supporting locally led humanitarian action has become a priority for many in the international humanitarian sector. For some, this shift is driven by an ethical imperative; for others it is a practical reality. Yet, while ‘localisation’ has become a buzz word, the pace of change has fallen far short of the rhetoric of international actors and the hopes of national and local organisations.

Research around localisation/locally led humanitarian action proves particularly challenging since its interpretations change depending on where you are or with whom you are speaking. So, although significant attention and literature have been generated since the build-up to the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, this has primarily focused on tracking progress against commitments towards localisation made by international actors. There is surprisingly little evidence on the relationship between locally led humanitarian action and performance on the ground.

Seven years on from the World Humanitarian Summit, as thinking and practice around localisation have become more mature, as donor policy is starting to shift, and as patience for meaningful change begins to erode, we find ourselves at a critical moment to consider the learning agenda for localisation.

Against this backdrop, ALNAP carried out a scoping review to gain insight into the following questions:

  • How have the debates and concepts of localisation evolved since the World Humanitarian Summit, including around terminology?
  • What are the achievements, challenges and barriers to progress on commitments to localise?
  • What potential value is added by locally led approaches to humanitarian performance?
  • What are the gaps in learning and evidence on these themes?

This paper aims to provide a clear summary of the evidence and perspectives to date around the issues of localisation and locally led action. Based on the learning gaps that emerged through the literature review and interviews, it also sets out a broad learning agenda around this topic.