Generating Rigorous Evidence on the Effectiveness of Humanitarian Programming

Young Syrian refugee girls participate in a classroom in Turkey.
Syrian refugees studying in Kilis, Turkey, August 2015.
Photo: ehasdemir |
J-PAL is developing a long-term research effort to generate actionable cross-cutting insights to improve the effectiveness of humanitarian operations.

Conflict and crisis situations threaten the lives and basic rights of individuals, and present obstacles to both the fulfillment of basic needs and inclusive economic development. An estimated 274 million people will require humanitarian assistance in 2022 (UN OCHA 2022) and the scale of these needs looks likely to grow, in particular as global warming leads to further disasters, displacement and potential conflict. Yet, rigorous evidence on how humanitarian assistance can be delivered effectively, and in a manner that can durably meet the needs and protect the rights of affected populations, is scarce. To help fill this evidence gap, J-PAL Europe is developing a long-term research effort with the intention to identify effective models of humanitarian programming and improve protection outcomes.

With initial funding from the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), we will:

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Develop a learning agenda

We will produce a learning agenda informed by consultations with implementing organisations and policymakers, as well as existing research, to identify evidence gaps and evaluation priorities in the humanitarian space. The learning agenda will help orient subsequent research efforts.

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Build capacities

We will deliver tailored methodological and practical training sessions on impact evaluations for humanitarian practitioners and policymakers interested in the application of randomised evaluations for evaluating humanitarian interventions. Learn more about upcoming training opportunities on impact evaluations for humanitarian interventions here.

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Facilitate research partnerships

To foster future research collaborations in the humanitarian space, we will develop and maintain a network of knowledge and implementing partners interested in the application of randomised evaluations for generating policy insights relevant for humanitarian programming.

From mid-2022 onwards, and conditional on further funding, we will award grants to selected research projects, continue to work with researchers and implementing organisations to facilitate impact evaluations, and disseminate the emerging evidence.

In aiming to promote impact evaluations that can inform effective humanitarian programming, we will consider a range of related sectors and thematic areas relevant to humanitarian operations. Preliminary reflections with affiliated researchers and practitioners lead us to anticipate that particularly relevant research may contribute to the following areas of knowledge:


How to better protect the rights and dignity of conflict and disaster-affected populations? This workstream will for example focus on identifying effective models for:

  • Formalising legal rights and increasing rights uptake;
  • Influencing the behaviour of actors and institutions responsible for rights violations to prevent, reduce, and respond to violence
  • Providing psychosocial support and medical assistance in response to violence and abuse.


How to improve the effectiveness of delivery mechanisms and maximise the impact of humanitarian interventions? This workstream will focus on assessing the relative effectiveness of different aid delivery modalities—familiar examples include cash vs in-kind transfers—or identifying ways to facilitate access to and take-up of basic services, such as housing or physical and mental health support.


Humanitarian assistance is increasingly embedded in, and expected to serve, a longer-term development logic. This workstream will seek to identify solutions that foster resilience of populations to shocks and reduce aid dependency, as well as help design humanitarian programmes with an eye to improving long-term socioeconomic and psychological effects.

Partnership Opportunities

There are several possibilities for policymakers, operators and funders to get involved in strengthening the evidence base around humanitarian assistance.

For information on how to support and contribute to the humanitarian research effort, please contact Cillian Nolan, Director of Policy, at [email protected].


The research effort on the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance is hosted and managed by J-PAL Europe:

Cillian Nolan, Director of Policy
Theresa Stienen, Policy Manager
Anna Lazzarin, Senior Policy Associate
Abdoulaye Ndiaye, Senior Policy Associate

It is developed under the scientific and strategic guidance of:

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