Do No Harm: Ethical Humanitarian Innovation and Digital Bodies

Led by Kristin Bergtora Sandvik

Jan 2019 –

​This project is funded by NORGLOBAL / The Research Council of Norway.

​How does innovation in the domain of humanitarian ICTs and digitization shape and challenge humanitarian action and its contribution to the SDGs?


The growing import of ICTs and data generate new ethical questions for humanitarians. The use of mobiles, biometric devices, wearables or drones to collect information about beneficiaries, and new partnerships with the private sector, increasingly shape emergency responses. Humanitarians and policy makers have not fully identified or grappled with the emergent ethical challenges with respect to how new technologies produce data about beneficiaries (such as digital templates of fingerprints and the iris, or real-time information about bodily functions) and the distribution of aid (information apps, blockchain, wearables). Challenges arise from technology implementation in emergency contexts, cybersecurity threats, profit motifs, experimental practices and the securitization of humanitarian data.

This multi-disciplinary, qualitative project provides a conceptual and empirical basis for addressing these questions, incorporating a responsible research and innovation perspective. The objective is to engage all stakeholders (researchers, policymakers, and operational actors) in a conversation about how ethical humanitarian innovation can contribute to realize the SDGs in an accountable manner.

The project is developed around four work packages on:

  1. The place of data and digital bodies in humanitarian operations
  2. Transformations of aid: market logic and intimate tracking
  3. The humanitarian digitization-security nexus
  4. Ethical humanitarian innovation: critical lessons for SDGs and policy

WP1-3 will produce 7 empirical case studies.

Project partners include PRIO, University of Manchester (HCRI), University of Copenhagen and the START Network labs. The project team and advisory board consist of leading humanitarian technology and innovation scholars and practitioners, with broad field and policy experience.

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