Sociotechnical Change: Tracing Flows, Languages, and Stakes Across Diverse Cases| Humanitarian Innovation in Forced Displacement

Alphoncina Lyamuya


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been at the forefront of major humanitarian innovative undertakings in the forced displacement context. From the launch of Project Profile, geared to address the lack of identification documents (IDs) among refugees through biometric systems, to the use of machine learning techniques to detect xenophobia against refugees, the UNHCR has been experimenting with different technical solutions to ostensibly address complex operational challenges in humanitarian settings. This article uses the case study of the UNHCR to analyze sociotechnical changes that can be observed throughout the organization’s innovation journey over the last two decades—before and after the establishment of the UNHCR Innovation Service. I particularly grapple with this question: What is distinct about the current logic of innovation at the UNHCR? Drawing on content analysis of publicly available reports, articles, and policy documents, I suggest that the establishment of the Innovation Service at the UNHCR enables the agency to internally experiment with novel sociotechnical systems while also reinventing its collaborative undertakings with public and private stakeholders to meet its humanitarian goals effectively. 


humanitarian innovation, technology, forced migration management, data-driven, sociotechnical changes

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