Each stage of the humanitarian innovation process involves a range of ethical questions and potential dilemmas. Of primary concern are the vulnerable populations and affected communities that are the focus of humanitarian work, and the power imbalances inherent within this provider/recipient relationship.
As humanitarian innovation introduces new actors, increasingly complex products and processes, and experimentation to the sector it is crucial that it is governed by strong ethics. This is necessary both to guide everyday decision-making and to avoid serious harm.
Until now, there have been no authoritative principles specifically relating to ethical humanitarian innovation. Existing ‘principles’ (e.g. UN Innovation Network Principles for Innovation in Humanitarian and Disaster Response) in the area relate more to innovation management than to ethics.
A set of principles was drafted based on an initial World Humanitarian Summit workshop convened at the University of Oxford on 27 April 2015 by the Humanitarian Innovation Project based at the Refugee Studies Centre. The workshop included the participation of ICRC, UNHCR, UNICEF, OCHA, the World Humanitarian Summit secretariat, DFID, Save the Children, the Humanitarian Innovation Fund, the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, as well as a range of academics with expertise in areas such as medical ethics, business ethics, humanitarian ethics, innovation management, and humanitarian practice.
This live online consultation event used these draft principles as a starting point for gathering further input from both panelists and event participants on both their formulation as well as their operational relevance.