Humanitarian Horizons

Project Team

The shape of humanitarian crises is evolving, with climate change and globalization set to have a profound impact upon community vulnerability. If they are to meet the challenges of the next two decades, humanitarian agencies will also need to evolve and change the way they work. The Humanitarian Horizons research seeks to understand the impact that climate change, globalization, demographics, and changing dynamics within the humanitarian sector will have on future crises and organizations’ responses to them. The research then goes on to examine the core challenges impacting agencies’ ability to anticipate and prepare for these crises.


Tufts/FIC’s 2004 Ambiguity and Change report spelled out some of the predicted big drivers of the humanitarian environment over a ten-year period. It focused on environmental changes, urbanization, migration, and HIV/AIDS as well as changes within humanitarian agencies. It was underwritten by a grouping of operational international non-governmental humanitarian agencies, the Inter-Agency Working Group (IWG).

While agencies, their senior management, and boards found the report a useful tool for thinking and planning for the near future, it was neither sufficiently comprehensive nor explicit when it came to the practical ‘so what?’ questions for agencies at the operational level. Humanitarian Horizons aims to fill that gap.

The project has one abiding objective, which is to better inform the humanitarian community (writ large) in preparing for the complexities and uncertainties of the future by enabling it to enhance its anticipatory and adaptive capacities.

The project begins with an analysis of three external drivers – climate change, globalization, and demographic changes – affecting the humanitarian environment in the next twenty years, with a particular emphasis on varying impacts on different types of communities and livelihoods. Also included is an analysis of key internal drivers likely to influence the capacities of humanitarian organizations in the future. These analyses were then supplemented with the operational perspectives and anticipations of the IWG agencies, both from HQ and field levels, in order to identify the challenges most relevant to the humanitarian community, and appropriate avenues for change and preparation in the coming years.

It was intended that the very methodology and interactive processes of the Humanitarian Horizons project will be regarded as an important output for those who have been project participants. Thus a key output is a change in agency thinking and planning capacity based upon what was learned through interaction over the course of the project.

The four individual analyses as described above were published as research papers in November 2009, and have been incorporated into a final Humanitarian Horizons document published in January 2010. Being aware of many other change processes going on in the humanitarian system, and other coalitions for change, it is critical that this project’s outputs be widely disseminated and openly shared with other change programs. They should benefit from our work and we need to benefit from their insights.

We are seeking primarily to inform the boards and senior management of the seven participating NGOs of the IWG. Through workshops, briefing notes, and discussion prompted by this project, we hope to offer them tools that will allow them to develop more appropriate responses to the crises of the future.

This program involves three key sets of collaboration. First, the research was implemented jointly between Tufts/FIC and the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College, London. Second, the researchers worked closely with the seven NGO members of the IWG to incorporate their operational perspectives, and to disseminate the research outputs. And thirdly, recognized experts from outside these institutions were commissioned to conduct the analyses of the drivers of change.