Human-centred design and humanitarian innovation

The humanitarian sector is often criticised for being too top-down and for failing to meet the needs and priorities of crisis-affected people. ‘Innovation’ became a rallying cry for new initiatives, organisations and funding promises. Yet, three years on, the sector has been slow to prioritise and support local leadership or to create systems that allow people affected by disaster to have a hand in shaping innovations within their own communities. A recent research paper suggests that only 33% of humanitarian innovators consult with affected populations during their innovation processes. In response to this situation, several organisations have begun advocating for the use of human-centred design (HCD) in humanitarian innovation: bringing meaningful community participation into developing solutions, services or assistance for that community. The Disasters and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP) Innovation Labs is a diverse network of national and international humanitarian organisations, set up to identify and grow areas of innovation that come directly from communities affected by crises. The labs drew on the HCD tradition, with the aim of developing more responsive and locally-led humanitarian and preparedness programming.

This research paper aims to understand how DEPP Labs implemented a HCD methodology and how effectively this has translated into humanitarian contexts. It outlines key principles, explores whether HCD increased the level and quality of participation, and discusses key questions that may be relevant to participation more broadly. 

The objectives of the paper are to answer the following questions: 

  • What is known about HCD in humanitarianism?
  • Did the HCD methodology facilitate better innovations in these contexts? In what ways? 
  • What were the constraints to implementing the HCD methodology?
  • Did HCD help the DEPP Labs to achieve good quality participation?