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The role of military actors in the international humanitarian landscape has expanded over the last two decades. However, despite growing acknowledgment by humanitarians of the need to search ‘outside’ the traditional humanitarian community for new products, processes and innovations, very little systematic research has examined militaries as a reference point for informing humanitarian innovation. The nature of civil–military relations across the humanitarian community is complex and often fractious; that this lack of engagement extends to the discourse around humanitarian innovation is unsurprising. Nonetheless, a major research gap exists in understanding both the risks and lesson-learning opportunities that military actors present to humanitarian innovation. This article looks at military actors as a serious subject of study and debate within the humanitarian innovation discourse, and calls for further research on this topic. We outline three areas of exploration, drawing on research conducted at the Oxford Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) in 2015, supported by consultations with expert practitioners, policymakers and researchers from across the aid sector, militaries and academia. Taken together, this work suggests the need for better understanding of both the opportunities and hazards that military actors pose to the humanitarian innovation agenda.

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ODI Humanitarian Practice Network

Publication Date



26 - 30