Skip to content
The Innovation Process
Activity 1.1 A

Learn from evaluations and reports

This activity will help you to understand the problems and opportunities that have already been identified in relation to your area of interest.

Whether you want to explore how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) might improve medical supply chains in remote areas, or whether you want to learn about how your organisation can improve its urban livelihoods programming, you’ll want to find out what’s already known about your topic.

External evaluations and after-action reviews are perhaps the best place to gain insights as to what works, what doesn’t – and why – in humanitarian response. Drawing your insights from key reports will ensure that:

  1. the challenge you want to work on is relevant to humanitarian operations.
  2. you can point to objective evidence regarding the key barriers and challenges faced by existing interventions.
  3. the ideas you have about potential solutions are aligned with the recommendations that have been made by the experts.

Things to consider

  • Make sure that you have an understanding of which humanitarian cluster is responsible for your problem so you know what websites and organisations you should refer to.
  • Understand what the humanitarian standards are (if they exist) that would be applied to this problem.

Reviewing reports


First, identify two or three relevant reports on your topic. The first place to look is in your own organisation. If you don’t have any, then you can find evaluations of humanitarian programming in ALNAP’s HELP Libary, which enables you to search by country, organisation, topic (such as sector), or community of practice.

It is also a good idea to look for ‘meta-evaluations’ that will provide the analysis from multiple reports and evaluations on the topic or emergency context. Take a look through the reports, noting the main barriers, gaps, challenges and recommendations described by the authors. Consider the following questions:

  • Source: What is the publisher’s/author’s track record and reputation? What do you think is motivating the study? Would you consider this source reliable and respected?
  • Key message: What seems to be the central message of the report? How do the authors evaluate the programme (pay special attention to how ‘success’ is measured and how the study was carried out)? What’s the bottom line?
  • Performance factors: What factors seem to be contributing to poor performance? How do the authors/researchers know this? Do you agree?
  • Recommendations: What does the report recommend doing to respond to this state of affairs?

Next, take your notes and annotations and try to make sense of the main barriers, gaps and challenges identified by the authors of the reports.

Generally speaking, challenges tend to emerge either because there is a barrier that hinders or blocks the successful delivery of an activity, programme or action, or because there is a gap – something missing – that is required to deliver on an action, activity or programme.

What gaps and barriers do you see?

Try to distil those gaps and barriers by writing them on sticky notes and grouping them into recognisable themes and patterns.

Can you identify common features, sources or elements?

Further resources

[The sector’s largest library of resources on Humanitarian Evaluation, Learning and Performance (HELP).]