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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

An innovation graveyard: A critical review of crowdsourced technological innovations in humanitarian assistance

Over the last decade, crowdsourcing has increased to identify relevant technological innovations or products to support humanitarian assistance. Crowdsourcing refers to collective and sometimes competitive design processes such as hackathons and innovation funds. These processes allow for the inclusion and broad consultation of stakeholders, especially end-users, for improved innovation outcomes.

This paper examines these competitive crowdsourcing processes and the impact of the resulting humanitarian technology innovations. Additionally, humanitarianism should not be exempt in this era of global sustainability awareness. Hence this research on the long-term sustainability of humanitarian technologies derived from such design processes.

The research follows a mixed methods approach. First, humanitarian technology data was collected from three innovation funds (Elrha, 2018; GSMA, 2022; Humanitarian Grand Challenge, 2022) and one hackathon (The Port, 2022). The data collected was on the stage of product development, funding distribution, and the different organisations involved in the innovations., Three interviews were conducted with humanitarian practitioners to complement this data. The data was then coded and analysed to reveal the effectiveness of crowdsourcing and the current sustainability outcomes of the resulting humanitarian technologies.

Finally, a sustainability framework was developed using insights from the literature, innovation data and interviews. The framework was retrospectively applied to five case studies from the identified humanitarian technologies.

The results reveal an increasing number of non-humanitarian actors involved in developing and deploying humanitarian technologies. Additionally, the innovations seem to portray some incomplete sustainability considerations, as revealed by the application of the sustainability framework. This strengthens the need for proactive sustainability analysis in the crowdsourcing process to mitigate possible unintended consequences of humanitarian technologies.



Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.