What is innovation?

What is innovation?

Introduction and definitions for innovation in humanitarian aid

To “innovate” means to make changes in something established, to introduce new ideas and methods in flexible, uncommon ways. Put differently, “innovation” is an umbrella term for concerted efforts to respond to new challenges or changing context, to improve existing programs or to integrate new developments from other sectors, such as advanced technologies. None of these are “new” to humanitarian assistance. Practitioners at headquarters and in the field have been altering and tweaking their projects and initiatives for ages, to respond to sudden challenges, when faced with unexpected circumstances or when seeing a possibility to better address needs.

To start, a baseline understanding of what “innovation” refers to in humanitarian aid is useful. The Humanitarian Innovation fund (HIF) uses the following definition:

Innovations are dynamic processes, which focus on the creation and implementation of new or improved products and services, processes, positions and paradigms. Successful innovations are those that result in improvements in efficiency, effectiveness, quality or social outcomes/impacts.

Source: http://www.humanitarianinnovation.org/innovation

Different sectors’ experience with innovation also can inform these processes in humanitarian action. A vast literature offers various insights, theoretical frameworks and practical lessons. Some key documents include:


Humanitarian innovation:


last update
27 November 2014

More actions