Understanding capacity and complementarity in humanitarian response

April 2017 to March 2019

In an era of larger threats, greater donor and public demands on humanitarian organisations and the growing use of remote management in insecure environments, making the best use of all available humanitarian capacity has become crucial. More recently, the importance of local capacity and collaboration and complementarity among local and international actors were central themes of the World Humanitarian Summit.

Given the increasing number and diversity of humanitarian actors and the growing connection between humanitarian and development roles, there is a need to consider opportunities for more effective complementarity. There is also a need to overcome factors that undermine the contribution of local capacity, and to focus on how better complementarity can improve the humanitarian effort. 

However, the rhetorical emphasis on capacity – whether for preparedness, response or risk reduction – has not been matched by adequate attention to how humanitarian capacity is defined and understood by different people and in different contexts. The two-year project seeks to clarify these concepts, and explore the capacity of local, national and international actors to respond to humanitarian needs in different contexts.

It aims to generate insight into how capacity is understood by various stakeholders in the humanitarian sector; what capacity is needed versus what exists among local, national and international actors in specific contexts; and what incentives and power dynamics promote or inhibit better collaboration and complementarity.

Outputs