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A partial picture: Humanitarian research and innovation needs better tracking of investment

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On 11 May, at OCHA’s Humanitarian Partnerships and Networks Weeks (HPNW) 2022, Elrha hosted a hybrid panel event to highlight the need to better track who is leading humanitarian research and innovation (R&I) and where it is taking place. The event was dynamic, bringing together those working in the humanitarian sector, academia, and funding spaces to discuss emerging findings from our latest initiative, the Global Prioritisation Exercise (GPE), and explore how investments in research and innovation can be better targeted. Here are some key takeaways…


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Three key takeaways:

A data deficit

There is a clear data deficit on how much investment in humanitarian R&I is taking place, where, and by whom. The humanitarian sector doesn’t know how much its actually spending on R&I. The R&I ecosystem should have a mechanism that enables better financial reporting and tracking, to improve coordination and target investments to where the needs are.

“If we can’t tell how much we’re spending, it says something about how much we’re really willing to take seriously our… investment in improvement,” commented Jess Camburn, CEO of Elrha.

A systemic issue

Preliminary GPE findings show that the system needs to provide more transparency and visibility of the range of investments and activity in the humanitarian R&I space, to inform priority-setting and improve its coordination mechanism.

By investing strategically in R&I we can accelerate the change needed to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Speaking at the event, Samer Jabbour, Professor of Public Health Practice at the American University of Beirut’s Faculty of Health Sciences asserted that control over investments should not stay in the hands of those furthest removed from the needs on the ground. Donors must adapt to enable actors from low- and middle-income countries to shape and lead R&I for solutions to humanitarian emergencies.

An appetite for risk

There’s an imbalance of investment, between geographical locations, between the local and national, as well as between investment and need. It is key to work on a creating a larger acceptance in the donor community for taking risks and through this approach imbalances may be addressed. It is a matter of taking risks for the far greater returns that come from investment in R&I.

“Innovation requires risk taking from donors… The greatest challenge is to create acceptance that it is more efficient to focus on prevention than response. We need to look at investment in humanitarian R&I as investment, rather than cost or loss.” said Kaia Bilton, Senior Advisor, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.