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This paper is part of a series collating literature, resources, and actions that have focused on efforts to create change in the aid sector, developed in support of systems change initiative, theRINGO Project(Reimagining the INGO). This paper considers the topic of ‘technology and innovation’ with the intent to help keep practitioners up to date with the evolving discussions in this area and promote awareness of initiatives among aid and development actors. It seeks to contribute to fostering a collaborative and reflective space, as a useful resource to invite discussion and contemplation, a ‘conversation starter’ as to what is defined as ‘disruptive’ transformational change and how the sector can work to meaningfully achieve this paradigm shift. 

With the humanitarian system continuing to contend with “record numbers of people displaced for longer periods by natural disasters and protracted and/or escalating conflicts”, actors are “increasingly exploring the idea of humanitarian innovation”. This ranges from 3D printing of medical supplies in an emergency, to using blockchain technologies to deliver humanitarian assistance such as cash and food assistance, as well as drawing on initiatives from the private sector in efforts to adapt and improve the aid system. Similarly, a research study by the European Parliament notes that “technological innovation can play an influential role in addressing the challenges of the humanitarian sector, including preventing and reducing human suffering during crises”.

Yet, several experts in recent research note that while this technology and innovation has had some impact, the aid sector has “hit a plateau with innovation”, and so-called, “pilotitis”, which is a term coined to describe “fatigue from implementing small-scale projects that never scale up”. While humanitarian organisations have sought to apply the latest ‘innovative’ technologies to better meet the challenges of disaster and conflict response, the attraction to do this can come at the cost of, among other things, “unintentionally excluding those most in need or compromising humanitarian principles”, which has been seen with shifts to digital registration or humanitarian independence being compromised through private sector partnerships.

This section offers a collection of research, analysis and practical case studies that illustrate some of these new approaches being put into practice by humanitarian actors, as well as sharing some analysis from academics, experts, and practitioners who caution around the sectors ‘enthusiasm’ for technology-driven solutions.

‘Transformation in the aid and development sector?’ is proudly presented by Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Rights CoLab as part of the RINGO project, with the generous support of the IKEA Foundation.
Learn more about the series and read the other papers here.

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