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Measuring the impact of humanitarian aid: a review of current practice


Hero image description: Women carrying cartons of oil, IDP camp, Uganda Image credit:Manoocher Deghati Image license:ODI given rights

This report is concerned with how the impact of humanitarian aid can be measured, why this is increasingly being demanded and whether it is possible to do it better. It also explores the benefits, dangers and costs that paying greater attention to impact might entail.

Although questioning the impact of humanitarian assistance is not new, it has moved up the humanitarian agenda in recent years. As the overall volume of humanitarian assistance has increased, so there has been greater scrutiny of how this money is spent, while reforms within the West’s public sectors have seen the introduction of new management systems focusing on results (Macrae et al., 2002). Several UN agencies, donors and NGOs are developing results-based management systems, and investing considerable resources in them, partly in an effort to demonstrate impact more clearly.

This increasing pressure to show results has yet to translate into clear improvements in the measurement or analysis of impact. Taken as a whole, the humanitarian system has been poor at measuring or analysing impact, and the introduction of results-based management systems in headquarters has yet to feed through into improved analysis of impact in the field. Yet the tools exist: the problem therefore seems to be that the system currently does not have the skills and the capacity to use them fully.

This suggests that, if donors and agencies alike want to be able to demonstrate impact more robustly, there is a need for greater investment in the skills and capacities needed to do this.

Many of the changes identified in this study would have wider benefits beyond simply the practice of impact assessment: greater emphasis on the participation of the affected population, the need for clearer objectives for humanitarian aid, more robust assessments of risk and need and more research into what works and what does not would be to the advantage of the system as a whole.


Charles-Antoine Hofmann, Jeremy Shoham and Les Roberts