Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Weeks
HNPW 2024 (29 April - 10 May 2024)

Session title: Navigating ethical dilemmas in humanitarian action: A tool to support deliberation
Organizer(s): Humanitarian Outcomes, UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub
8 May 24 14:00-15:30   (Salle 3)

Aim of Session

This session will:
  • explore key humanitarian ethical dilemmas;
  • explore how humanitarian actors tackle these issues
  • reflect on how the ethics tool can be used internally by humanitarian actors and inter-agency forums to encourage dialogue and decision-making.


Humanitarians face difficult ethical dilemmas all too often: from immediate operational choices to bigger strategic questions. Without a framework for approaching these decisions, it is often easier to put off a deliberate choice until events force an outcome. Unstructured discussions among colleagues can devolve into unproductive, contentious, even toxic debates and inconsistent action among humanitarian actors.

Ethics Tool Development & Purpose

Building on the findings of the Humanitarian Outcomes report, Navigating Ethical Dilemmas for Humanitarian Action in Afghanistan, funded by the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub, it became clear that a gap in the system exists in terms of a framework to address ethical dilemmas. Humanitarian Outcomes developed an ethics guide based on interviews with practitioners and ethicists. This was then peer reviewed and piloted in three crisis affected contexts and with a range of humanitarian organisations.

The guide is intended to support individuals, organisations, or inter-agency bodies (such as Humanitarian Country Teams or NGO forums) in thinking through ethical dilemmas that they may face. It is designed to help the users facilitate – or participate in – a structured and meaningful dialogue with relevant stakeholders to look at the dilemma from a range of ethical standpoints. When a decision needs to be taken, it should then be possible to articulate:

  • why that particular choice was made;
  • what trade-offs were accepted in doing so, including in terms of the impact on people affected by crises;
  • what constraints made a better choice impossible.
Following the process does not mean the choice will be easy, or that the final decision will remain uncontroversial. However, the process should help provide transparency and, over time, enable learning and the possibility to review the decision to see if the original basis for the choice made remains true.



1. 14:00 – 14:05, Session introduction and overview.A brief overview of the session, including the overall purpose and expected outcomes.

2. 14:05 – 14:20, Opening Reflections Presentation & Panel Discussion:

What was the journey to develop this ethics tool? What does the ethics tool offer humanitarians? (including audience Q&A).

Presentation on how the Afghan study, looking at the humanitarian system’s reaction to the Taliban ban on women, led to the identification of a need for better dialogue, and the use of ethics as a way to explore different options in very challenging circumstances. Summary presentation of the tool, particularly the key questions and issues.

3. 14:20 – 15:10 Break Out Groups – Discussing Dilemmas.

Participants will be invited to gather into groups and choose a dilemma from their experience. They will then use the tool to have a dialogue around that dilemma to better understand how to use an applied ethics approach. The sessions will have a lead facilitator, support facilitators and stimulus materials for participant to engage with. Participants will have the opportunity to choose which discussion to be a part of based on their expertise and interests.

4. 15.10 – 15.30, Sharing key challenges, opportunities, reflections and wrap up.In this concluding session break out groups will share their experience of exploring dilemmas using the ethics tool and reflecting on what it could mean for their organisation and the humanitarian sector. Further Q&A and reflections from participants will be encouraged.


Potential Panelists & Facilitators:

· Humanitarian Outcomes


· Ethics expert

· Humanitarian practitioner that has worked with the tool


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