It would be naive to think that security and safeguarding are not essential to humanitarian assistance. Harvard’s Signal program, which promotes the safe and effective use of information technologies in humanitarian response, for example, has conducted important research on the application of remote sensing, and principles such as “do no harm”—a concept based on the Hippocratic Oath—help guide humanitarian work and protect those it aims to serve.

However, it’s also important for the field to take a step back and look at who exactly determines such standards and who does not, and whether such standards exclude the very people who should be driving the innovation process. In recent years, the United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) Innovation Service and Community Technology Empowerment Network (CTEN), a refugee-led organization based in Northern Uganda, wanted to try moving past the idea that co-designing and user-centered design are panaceas for sharing power. We began to ask: What if we could redistribute power so that refugees led the innovation process? What if refugees established and tested our approach to experimentation?

The Innovation Service saw the project as a great opportunity to learn from and test ways of supporting refugee-led experimentation, an area it had been keen to support since its inception.

The Innovation Service, UNHCR colleagues in the Uganda operation, and CTEN started a process of formalizing their partnership in support of refugee-led innovation and the MCTC.

We believe a wide range of organizations, including grassroots community organizations and big-tech multinationals, can apply this approach to ensure that the people they aim to help hold the reigns of the experimentation process.

  1. Collaborate Authentically and Build Intentional Partnerships
  2. Avoid Technocratic Language
  3. Don’t Assume Caution Is Best
  4. Choose Experiment Participants Based on Values
  5. Monitor Community Feedback and Adapt

Read the full article about humanitarian innovation by Peter Batali, Ajoma Christopher & Katie Drew at Stanford Social Innovation Review.