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Please note, this call for papers has now closed

The emerging trend of ‘humanitarian innovation’ has captured the minds and practices of humanitarian actors across the globe. Seeking to draw upon ideas traditionally used in the private sector to improve the responses in emergencies, protracted crises and post-conflict recovery, humanitarians have turned to innovation for solutions to critical challenges in the field. 

Current debate has begun to document examples of ad hoc innovation in practice; however there is a need to develop a common language and greater conceptual clarity as a starting point for moving forward in the dialogue and debate. The conference aims to provide a platform for discussion and debate, bringing together actors from UN agencies, NGOs, academia, and both the public and private sectors. By convening these discussions, the agenda for humanitarian innovation will be further defined.

We invite individual paper proposals, full panel proposal, and suggestions for alternative format (eg film, debate, demonstration) sessions from academics, policymakers, and practitioners from across sectors. Although we are interested in papers that relate to any theme that can advance debate on humanitarian innovation, we particular invite submissions that may relate to any or a number of five core themes:

1. Definitions and frameworks for humanitarian innovation

The HI debate is still emerging and embryonic. Discussion and reflection remains needed on definitions of HI as well as appropriate analytical frameworks for understanding the boundaries and scope of the concept. Such contributions might, for example, engage with the management theory and innovation literatures in order to offer new theoretical direction to the current discussions.

2. Improving organisational responses

Papers may reflect on the range of best practices of innovation that have emerged within and across organisations. How have particular organisations developed new ideas and partnerships, adapted organisational processes, fostered new partnerships, built innovation labs, or begun to develop new funding mechanisms for innovation. What innovation practices are emerging in the major UN organisations and humanitarian NGOs.

3. 'Bottom-up' approaches to innovation

One of the most neglected and challenging areas of the current debate, is how to foster the skills, talents, and aspirations of so-called 'beneficiary populations'. Papers might begin to reflect on ways in which affected communities have been drawn into innovation models in ways that include a role for the agency of, for example, displaced populations to engage in strategies of self-reliance or self-protection.

4. New directions within humanitarian work

Papers might also reflect on new products and processes that are emerging within the humanitarian sector. What trends and best practices are present? What is at the cutting edge of the area and how transformative can it be? How might cash transfers, insurance, crisis-mapping, new forms of humanitarian finance, big data analytics, two-way communication systems, remote sensing, or drones, for instance, transform the humanitarian landscape?

5. Critical approaches to humanitarian innovation

We also welcome critical academic reflection on trends within humanitarian innovation. What structural factors are driving humanitarian innovation and with what consequences? On a normative level, how can we begin to assess emerging trends in humanitarian innovation and the changing role of private actors within humanitarian sectors? How do the emerging trends fit within a broader historical context?


Maximum length: 250 words
Deadline for submission: 2 March 2014

Authors are invited to submit an abstract for individual paper proposals or a brief outline for panel proposals. Individual paper proposals should include the title of the paper and an abstract of up to 250 words. Panel proposals should include the title of the panel, an abstract for the panel theme, and details of all the authors and papers to be included.

We welcome presentations from policy and practice. Abstracts of up to 250 words can be submitted but academic papers are not required.

Accepted papers will be considered for publication in a special edition of a journal. To be considered, full papers will need to be submitted and made available for circulation by 1 July 2014.

Please submit paper, panel and other proposals to:


For further details contact Full registration details will be available in early 2014.

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