People-Driven Response: Power and Participation in Humanitarian Action

Date Published: September 27, 2019 Author: Jeremy Konyndyk and Rose Worden (Center for Global Development)

Humanitarian relief must involve, and be accountable to, the crisis- affected people it serves

This humanitarian value is the starting point of Jeremy Konyndyk’s and Rose Worden’s observation that international humanitarian action is not driven by – or accountable to the people that it exists to serve. They say that humanitarian power structures engage crises-affected people as passive recipients of aid, rather than a force in shaping priorities and plans.

In their policy paper published in September 2019, following the convening of an expert workshop in February 2019, by the Center for Global Development (CGD) titled, “People-Driven Response: Power and Participation in Humanitarian Action,” Konyndyk and Worden argue that to uphold such humanitarian value will require deep changes to the humanitarian system’s incentive structures and power dynamics. They put forth a set of recommendations centered around three imperatives:

  1. Influence and Representation – the perspectives of affected people must be represented at a governance level, at response leadership level, and at a field implementation level;

    The Importance of Independence – create a feedback accountability loop independent of the control of the institutions that are subject to the feedback; and


    Institutionalize change – toward demand-driven humanitarian practice and culture, including to invest in rigorous analysis of local power dynamics, and project flexibility to allow for adaptability.

Revolutions are about changing power structures. A participation “revolution” will not be achieved by the same players continuing to wield the same power in the same ways that they always have.

These three imperatives highlight the parallels between people-driven response and Results-Based Protection (RBP) – an approach that aims to reduce the risks that people face, starting from the perspective of those experiencing violence, coercion, and deliberate deprivation, and that emphasizes adaptability and strategic collaboration to achieve protection outcomes.