Global Policy and Research Conference

Risk, Adaptation and Innovation in Humanitarian Action
OCHA Policy and Research Conference
New York, 12-13 December 2011

In December 2011, OCHA hosted a humanitarian policy and research conference on the theme of 'Risk, Adaptation and Innovation in Humanitarian Action'.  The conference aimed to identify priority policy research areas for the humanitarian community, and to strengthen partnerships with policy and research organisations. Over 50 attendees came from a global network of research institutes, universities, international NGOs and UN organisations.   

OCHA staff identified the following priority policy and research themes from the conference as a whole:

Information and decision-making

Humanitarian programming needs to be driven by timely and relevant information and analysis in order to ensure that that aid delivery is impartial and needs-based. But more work is needed to see how information is incorporated into the decision-making process, particularly with respect to driving preventative action.


There is no overall framework for accountability in the humanitarian system and there are tensions between the need to be accountable to both donors and to affected communities. Development actors also need to be more accountable for reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience of people affected by humanitarian crises.

Risk and agility

The humanitarian system needs to be more effective at managing risk and more agile to cope with future crises.  There was a consensus on the need to foster a culture of innovation and learn better from failures.


The most discussed issue – participants called for OCHA to build deeper and more strategic relationships with new actors that were contributing to humanitarian work. Rather than trying to simply co-opt partners into the existing system, OCHA was encourage to engage with humility, listen to partner experiences, and work to build a truly inclusive system.


Related Documents
Final Report
List of Participants


Session 1: Humanitarian action in a changing world
Humanitarianism in a changing world
Hugh MacLeman, Humanitarian Futures Programme [Audio]
Climate, food and water: key trends and humanitarian implications
Rob Bailey, Chatham House [Audio]
Urbanisation and the challenges of humanitarian response in urban areas
Gregg Greenough, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative [Audio]
What will the humanitarian sector look like in the future?
Jemilah Mahmood, Humanitarian Futures Programme [Audio]


Session 2:  Adaptation and innovation in humanitarian action
System-wide adaptation to emerging challenges
Peter Walker, Feinstein International Center [Audio]
Adaptation to humanitarian challenges in the SE Asian region
Larry Maramis, ASEAN [Audio]
NGO perspectives on emerging challenges
Joel Charny, InterAction [Audio]
The role of the humanitarian sector in building resilience
Sue Lautze, FAO [Audio]
Cash transfers as a tool in adapting to emerging challenges
Nicolas Barrouillet, The Cash Learning Partnership [Audio]
Innovations in vulnerability and food security analysis
George Mu’Ammar, WFP [Audio]
Fostering innovation in humanitarian organizations
Ari Wallach, Synthesis Corp. [Audio]


Session 3: Humanitarian action in protracted and violent conflict
Politicization of humanitarian aid
Samir Elhawary, Overseas Development Institute [Audio]
Negotiating access in complex environments
Michael Neuman, MSF CRASH [Audio]
Adaptations to extreme insecurity
Abby Stoddard, Humanitarian Outcomes [Audio]
Assessing and managing risk in complex environments
Mathew Leslie, UNCT Somalia [Audio]


Session 4: Effective Humanitarian Action
What is effectiveness in humanitarian action?
Paul Knox Clark, ALNAP [Audio]
Understanding and measuring effectiveness
John Telford [Audio]
Beneficiary perceptions of humanitarian effectiveness
Dennis Dijkzeul, IFHV at Ruhr Universität Bochum, Germany [Audio]
Challenges in Information Management
Mark Foran, NYU School of Medicine [Audio]