Technology and Innovation

HHI's research on Technology and Innovation examines the impact of emerging technologies on the humanitarian field, focusing on both ethical and technical considerations. Explore the individual programs below to learn more about this work. 

Back to Research

Technology and Innovation


A suite of tools for field data collection for use in challenging environments

Signal Program

Advances the safe, ethical, and effective use of information technologies by communities of practice during humanitarian and human rights emergencies

Humanitarian Geoanalytics

Leverages the potential of geospatial data and analytics to introduce new ways of thinking, identify targets for micro-planning and research, and optimize resource allocation for cost-effective programming

DataPop Logo


Works to ensure that Big Data serves the interests of people across the globe, especially those of poor and vulnerable populations. Links to an external site.

Related Publications

Ziad Al Achkar and Nathaniel Raymond. 11/2016. Data preparedness: connecting data, decision making and humanitarian response .Abstract

Signal Program Standards and Ethics Series - Issue 1

Data are a central component of humanitarian response. Frequently, however, there is a disconnect between data, decision-making and response. Informed decisions need to be made in the first hours and days of an emergency, and if the elements to effectively gather, manage and analyse data are not in place before a crisis, then the evidence needed to inform response will not be available quickly enough to matter. What's more, a lack of readiness to use data can even cause "big data disasters".

Organizations need to be prepared to responsibly and effectively deploy and manage data collection and analysis tools, techniques, skilled staff and strategies in a specific operational context to be ready before a disaster strikes. This process is called “data preparedness”. The concept of data preparedness complements and expands on existing OCHA principles on the use of information management in disaster scenarios. This paper, which was reviewed by OCHA and other UN organizations, seeks to provide a blueprint for how the concept of data preparedness may be put into practice by members of the humanitarian data ecosystem. It is the first issue in the Signal Program's ongoing "Standards and Ethics" white paper series.

Brittany Card, Ziad Al Achkar, Isaac L. Baker, and Nathaniel A. Raymond. 9/2015. Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide: Intentional Burning of Tukuls.Abstract

During armed conflict in East and Central Africa civilian dwellings are intentionally targeted and razed. These traditional civilian dwellings are known as tukuls which are primarily mud and thatch huts.

The intentional destruction of these dwellings, given their prevalence in these regions, is often one of the only available indicators of the intentional targeting of civilians observable in satellite imagery.

This field has lacked accepted methodologies for performing this type of analysis. This guide is the first to focus on tukuls because they are a uniquely valuable metric for both documenting attacks on civilians during armed conflicts and assessing potential mass displacement that can result from these incidents.  

This guide is the second in a series of Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guides. Future satellite imagery interpretation guides from the Signal Program may focus on other, related phenomena and structures present in similar operational contexts.

Brittany Card, Isaac L. Baker, and Nathaniel A. Raymond. 4/2015. Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide: Displaced Population Camps.Abstract

Satellite Imagery Interpretation Guide: Displaced Population Camps is intended to help address the absence of public and standardized training resources for those seeking to use high resolution satellite imagery in support of refugee/IDP assistance operations. Students, general audiences, and volunteers studying and analyzing satellite imagery of displaced population camps may find this training resource beneficial.

The guide provides case studies of displaced population camps in East Africa and the Middle East. Dimensions, colors, shapes, and, when possible, unique identifying features of objects, including civilian shelters and humanitarian agency infrastructure, visible in high resolution imagery of the camps are identified. Objects are organized according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs humanitarian cluster system and three other categories unique to this guide. Imagery provided by Google's Skybox Imaging for the creation of this guide can be explored online by following the directions included inside the report.

Brittany Card, Ziad Al Achkar, and Nathaniel A. Raymond. 10/2015. What is 'Humanitarian Communication'? Towards Standard Definitions and Protections for the Humanitarian Use of ICTs. Read PublicationAbstract

In October 2014, the European Interagency Security Forum (EISF) launched a knowledge hub on communications technology and security risk management. The first publication of this project brought together 17 authors who analyzed in 11 articles how communications technology is changing the operational environment, the ways in which communications technology is creating new opportunities for humanitarian agencies to respond to emergencies, and the impact that new programs have on how we manage security.

The most recent contribution to the project comes from the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative. In their article, al Achkar, Card and Raymond explore what constitutes ‘humanitarian communications space’, and the challenges to agreeing a common definition of ‘humanitarian communication’ and its protection under international law.

Brittany Card. 7/2015. Applying Humanitarian Principles to Current Uses of Information Communication Technologies: Gaps in Doctrine and Challenges to Practice.Abstract
The goal of this paper is to identify and address current gaps, challenges and opportunities that face the humanitarian sector as it seeks to apply traditional humanitarian principles to the increasingly central role information communication technologies (ICTs) play in 21st Century humanitarian operations. While much has been written about the roles ICTs may play in support of humanitarian action, there is an absence of literature addressing how core humanitarian principles should guide, limit, and shape the use of these technologies in practice.
Brittany Card and Isaac L. Baker. 11/2014. “GRID: A Methodology Integrating Witness Testimony and Satellite Imagery Analysis for Documenting Alleged Mass Atrocities .” Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal, 8, 3, Pp. 49-61.Abstract

This article documents the development and initial use case of the GRID (Ground Reporting through Imagery Delivery) methodology by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI). GRID was created to support corroboration of witness testimony of mass atrocity related-events using satellite imagery analysis. A repeating analytic limitation of employing imagery for this purpose is that differences in the geographic knowledge of a witness and an imagery analyst can limit or impede corroboration.