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The Innovation Process

Challenge Response

How to use the REACH Tool

Below we present the seven steps of the tool and offer a short discussion of each in the context of humanitarian innovation.

Clarify the ethical challenge

When confronted with an ethically challenging situation in humanitarian innovation, we sometimes focus immediately on options: should we do X or Y? We encourage teams to resist that impulse, and to examine the nature of the ethical challenge first. A tangible way to begin this process is to name the ethical values or humanitarian principles that seem to be in tension or threatened in the situation.

Identify data, information and resources

To assess the situation and make a decision, it is important to gather relevant data. In completing step 1, it is likely that the team will have identified information (or information gaps) that is important for better understanding the situation.

There are two concerns that should be kept in mind. First, a key goal of this process is to guard against faulty assumptions about the baseline conditions so that these do not distort the ethical analysis of the problem being faced. Therefore it is necessary to critically appraise one’s own assumptions and act with humility in seeking alternate explanations. Second, this step will also help identify points of uncertainty and knowledge gaps that cannot be filled (or that cannot be filled within the necessary decision time frame). Taking note of these gaps is critical and they should be factored into the next steps of the process.

The REACH Tool does not presuppose a specific set of ethics resources. Innovation teams will be differently situated and, as a result, have different ethical commitments and ethics resources. At this stage, teams can turn to resources such as OCHA’s humanitarian principles (OCHA, 2012), articulations of their team’s core innovation values (see the Values Clarification Tool), mission statements, professional codes of ethics, the Red Cross Code of Conduct, or other key policy documents. The key question to ask is: how do these ethics resources shed light on the ethically challenging situation and what insights can they offer? It may be relevant to also account for local or international laws and regulations here in order to identify legal implications.

Process, evaluate and focus

Evaluate the information, data and resources gathered in stage 2, and select the most important ones – those that are most likely to support the innovation team in addressing the ethical challenge at hand. This is also a good moment to reassess the ethical challenge itself, as the work undertaken in step 2 may lead to a more nuanced understanding of situation. The statement of the ethical challenge and what is at stake should be revised, based on the new data that has been gathered and/or gaps in knowledge that have been identified.

Generate options

The next step is to list possible options (including, perhaps, doing nothing) or clusters of options: actions (based on the resources prioritised in step 3) that could be taken to address the situation.

Explore the ethical arguments for and against each option

Next, ethical rationales arguing for or against each option are identified, as well as the likely consequences of each. The ethics resources prioritised in stage 3 will be key reference points for identifying these ethical rationales.


Having identified ethical arguments for and against each option in step 5, as well as likely consequences, allows comparison and critical review of the possibilities. Deliberation should now focus on which option is, on balance, supported by stronger ethical rationales. This analysis should involve weighing rationales across options, and the for and against rationales associated with each option. The goal is to identify the best option under the circumstances, and given the available options. Next, a plan should be made for implementing the option (What will be done? By whom? When?).

Evaluate and follow-up

The final step focuses on what needs to happen after the decision is implemented. Some people may need support if the situation was stressful or the decision-making process was conflictual. Consider if it is pertinent to plan a timeline for revisiting the decision in order to review, refine, or reconsider it, if necessary.

It is also important to see the process of ethical deliberation as an opportunity to learn as a team and improve capacities to respond to future challenges. Teams can also consider whether there are appropriate channels for sharing their experiences with other innovation teams in order to deepen the pool of shared knowledge around humanitarian innovation ethics. It may also be of value to document the decision-making process and to keep a record, such that if the outcome of the decision was brought into question, there is a clear and transparent rationale that can be improved upon as necessary.