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HPG Integrated Programme 2017–19: understanding local response in crises

Achieving a more local, devolved response to humanitarian crises has risen up the policy agenda in recent years as one possible answer to the problems besetting international humanitarian response.

Proponents argue that a more local approach to assistance:

  • enhances flexibility and efficiency 

  • is more responsive to contexts and needs

  • involves local aid actors and communities much more meaningfully in decisions affecting humanitarian programming.

At the same time, however, there is little consensus around what a genuinely local response actually means, either in theory or in practice, and there are very few incentives to promote it within a system structurally and culturally inclined towards centralisation. This set of proposals for HPG’s Integrated Programme of research for 2017–19 critically analyses key aspects of this debate.

In this Integrated Programme, we adopt a more ground-level view of important issues within the humanitarian sector, while also drawing out their systemic and strategic implications.

As local as possible, as international as necessary: understanding capacity and complementarity in humanitarian response

The first project will seek insights into how capacity is understood in the humanitarian sector; what capacity exists among local, national and international actors in specific contexts; and what incentives, power structures, and relationships promote or inhibit better collaboration and complementarity.

The tip of the iceberg? Understanding non-traditional sources of aid financing

The second project seeks to situate assistance from the formal humanitarian system within the wider range of resources available to crisis-affected people, including from family and friends, community and national organisations, local and national governments, faith communities and the private sector.

Informality and protection: understanding the role of informal non-state actors in protecting civilians

The third project explores the role of informal non-state actors in protection: how they define it and provide it (or not), how affected communities see their impact on protection, and the extent to which affected communities distinguish between formal and informal actors in terms of actual protection outcomes on the ground.

Dignity in displacement: from rhetoric to reality

The final project proposed here connects our extensive work on displacement with an analysis of what constitutes dignity in humanitarian assistance. It adopts a local lens to explore whether, and in what ways, humanitarian interventions really do uphold and further the dignity of displaced people.


Christina Bennett, Sara Pantuliano, Matthew Foley, Veronique Barbelet, Wendy Fenton, Irina Mosel, Eva Svoboda, Caitlin Wake, Barnaby Willitts-King, Sherine El Taraboulsi-McCarthy, John Bryant and Karen Hargrave

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