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From the Ground Up: New Humanitarian Transparency Research

Three years ago, 59 major humanitarian aid donors and implementers brokered the ‘Grand Bargain’ at the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. It had the ambitious goal of achieving $1 billion in savings to address the gap in humanitarian financing. This was to be achieved through a series of commitments in ten key areas. One of which was improved transparency of humanitarian spending.

Significant gains have been made since then. According to self-reporting, by May 2018, 76% of Grand Bargain signatories or their affiliates, were publishing open data about their humanitarian activities using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) global data Standard. However, the full potential of more transparent humanitarian information is yet to be realised. This can only be done if the information made available is actively used and benefits local and national humanitarian responders.

As a first step, we must understand what challenges humanitarian actors face, whether and how improved transparency and greater information sharing can help. That is why we are launching a new research programme today, to better understand user needs.

Understanding user needs

Funded by the Dutch Government and in partnership with Development Initiatives, Publish What You Fund and Ground Truth Solutions will conduct research into the information needs of these humanitarian actors as part of the Grand Bargain’s transparency agenda. We will focus on humanitarian actors in protracted emergencies, as well as the main challenges they experience in accessing and using this information.

Based on this assessment, we will provide insights as to whether open data standards, platforms and tools need to change to make this information more useful and accessible to those on the front lines. We are working to three research objectives:

  • To increase understanding of the information needs and challenges of humanitarian actors on-the-ground, in particular local and national responders.

  • To identify existing open data standards, platforms and tools, and assess their accessibility and usefulness in relation to meeting the needs and addressing the challenges identified.

  • To identify possible improvements to open data standards, platforms and tools to better provide the information needed and in a way that makes it accessible to these actors.

Methods & timeline

We feel that a case study approach will give us the greatest opportunity to understand complex humanitarian environments, and therefore better enable us to develop insightful conclusions and recommendations. Following a robust selection process which reviewed different contexts against a variety of factors, such as geographical location, type of crisis, national and local civil society capacity, we opted for Iraq and Bangladesh. In Iraq, we will be focusing on urban displacement within the Iraqi Kurdistan region. In Bangladesh, we will be looking into the refugee camps surrounding Cox’s Bazaar and aspects of the natural disasters which afflict the country.

We chose to focus exclusively on protracted crises, as opposed to sudden onset crises. Protracted emergencies account for approximately 85% of total humanitarian aid, with the number growing year-on-year. Additionally, they more closely overlap with the development space, thus allowing us to draw on the development community’s established experience and learning in the field of aid and development transparency.

In terms of methods, we will use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research approaches, involving four phases:

  1. Desk review

  2. An initial quantitative instrument

  3. qualitative in-country key informant interviews

  4. The production of a final synthesis report

The research will be completed by the end of February 2020.

If you’d like to learn more or have some relevant experience you’d like to share, contact me at

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