Developing 'Alyssa' for the Humanitarian Futures Programme


The Humanitarian Futures Programme, King’s College London


Futures Approach

Project proposition development

Form of engagement

Client commission

The Humanitarian Innovation Challenge: Project Alyssa




I’ve recently been working with the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP) based at King’s College, London to further develop a project proposition centred on exploring future capacity issues within the humanitarian sector.

The project – the Humanitarian Capacity Challenge (HCC) – seeks to investigate a number of key drivers which are already influencing this area such as:

Demand-side forces: over recent years, the number of instances requiring humanitarian aid & the level of response needed have begun to place strains on the overall capacity of the system (as presently configured). Evaluations on the projected numbers, kinds & impacts of future disasters also introduce an important new level of demand to be anticipated.

Range of actors: traditionally regarded as the ‘operational domain’ of a range of select Western-based international non-governmental organisations (INGO’s), it is increasingly recognised that a wider range of ‘actors’ must now be considered if humanitarian response is to meet the demand-side challenges already noted. These include governments, the military, corporate entities, diaspora groups & scientific communities amongst others.

Relationship dynamics: while there is a growing awareness of the diversification of ‘actors’ looking to be active in this area there are only nascent approaches which seek to better understand the range of collaborative dynamics and cross-organisational or community behaviours which may be needed for future multi-actor ‘collective’ responses to be effective.

From the above, the HCC would seek to investigate how both the resources & attributes of such actors and their range of potential collaborations & interactions may create (or even destroy) a range of key ‘value’ criteria such as ‘value-addeds’, comparative advantages & complimentarities.

I was asked to review existing project ideas with a view to creating an enhanced proposition that met a number of aims:

  • strengthen the futures methodologies underpinning the project to enable a more extensive and robust investigative process
  • design the project to suit the interests & needs of a wider and more diverse audience of potential participants
  • develop the level of interactivity which could be offered
  • extend the longer-term ‘shelf-life’ of the project by recommending a range of integrated supporting activities

As such, the project has now been re-framed through a number of key futures-orientated themes, namely:

Complexity: Capacity is not a finite series of resources but both a flexible and variable set of components that we believe should be seen as fluid & emergent over time. Additionally, seeing capacity as something that either ‘exists’ or not introduces a distorting simplification to how we frame its value. As such, the project has now been set within a resilience and complex adaptive systems framework to better capture the levels of overall complexity involved.

Scale: Capacity has applicability across multiple scales and so the project has now been designed to work from the global to the local level to better enable more appropriate levels of ‘contextual’ relevance to be explored.

Non-Linearity: the project proposes using a number of distinct futures methodologies directed towards engaging participants across multiple temporal & conceptual perspectives rather than just considering a single, timeline against which a range of alternative ‘futures’ are constructed. Additionally, the design now incorporates elements of simulation modelling to enable the use of ‘wild cards’ within the process. This better reflects ‘real world’ experiences of how capacity dynamics emerge in relation to both sudden-impact, discontinuous crises as well as ongoing emergencies.

The Humanitarian Capacity Challenge is part of HFP’s ‘Programme area four: Resources, tools and methodologies’ project portfolio.