RECAP project

Research capacity strengthening and knowledge generation to support preparedness and response to humanitarian crises and epidemics

RLI focus: Humanitarian Accountability & Protection in Forced Displacement Contexts


This research project addresses the legal and other frameworks of accountability for humanitarian actors, focusing on protection in relation to displaced populations in crisis contexts.

RECAP is a four-year research project that started in 2018, focusing on the health and protection sectors in humanitarian response. Its purpose is to conduct research and strengthen research capacity to help improve decision-making and accountability in response to humanitarian crises. RECAP is a partnership between universities in the United Kingdom, Sierra Leone and Lebanon, along with leading humanitarian NGOs including Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières and the International Rescue Committee. RECAP is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).

Within the RECAP project, the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) leads research on protection and accountability for humanitarian organisations. 

Project Team, Partners and Funders

 Dr Sarah Singer         Dr Diana Martin     Bethan Mathias




The research is developed through the following inter-related strands of analysis:

  • Accountability concepts – developing an improved understanding of accountability and its place and implications in humanitarian work, including: the relationships between different concepts of accountability , and refugees’ participation in humanitarian organisations’ decisions-making; 
  • Legal/policy frameworks – developing an improved understanding of the legal and policy aspects of accountability for humanitarian organisations, using legal research methods to
    • identify the parameters and implications of international law for framing accountability in protection work by humanitarian actors with refugee populations;
    • assess how accountability concepts and mechanisms used by International Organisations and humanitarian actors intersect with national laws, policies and mechanisms for justice/accountability; and
    • evaluate selected accountability mechanisms utilised by major humanitarian actors in their protection work with refugee populations;
  • Accountability in policy and practice – developing an improved insight into the ways in which legal/policy accountability concepts and mechanisms function in practice through empirical field research in selected countries with affected populations, humanitarian actors and others engaged in protection work.
Knowledge Exchange Activities 
  • Legal/policy guidance – developing practical legal/policy guidance on accountability in humanitarian crises in collaboration with humanitarian organisations;
  • Academic-practitioner exchanges – developing joint academic projects that bring together legal/protection and health perspectives on responding to humanitarian crises;
  • Knowledge exchange events – hosting a range of academic events bringing together  academia, humanitarian practitioners and students to share research and facilitate discussions on accountability and protection in humanitarian crisis contexts;
  • Knowledge exchange and creation partnerships – supporting knowledge exchange and creating partnerships with universities, policy and research institutions and humanitarian organisations to promote research on accountability and protection in the humanitarian crisis;
  • Institutional reviews – building the capacity of health-focused academic partner institutions through institutional reviews of taught courses to strengthen the legal/protection (and refugee studies) aspects, encouraging interdisciplinarity through such engagement.

Research Activities

Case Study: Child Participation and Accountability in Save the Children Colombia’s Programming

The RLI have been exploring issues around child participation and humanitarian accountability. One component of this has been a collaboration with Save the Children UK and Save the Children Colombia. The research produced by the RLI in result of this collaboration has been instrumental in developing Save the Children Colombia’s approach to child participation and accountability for displaced populations.

In October 2019, the RLI published a report, drawing on research exploring how Save the Children Colombia engages migrant, refugee and displaced children in decisions about their activities, programmes and planning across the country.

A resulting three-day workshop, hosted collaboratively by the Refugee Law Initiative, Save the Children Colombia and Save the Children UK, drew together more than thirty staff participants from Save the Children field offices across Colombia. The workshop was an opportunity for joint knowledge production and engagement with the recommendations brought together by the RLI report.

The workshop outcomes aim to impact practice on the ground in the short and long term, and include a commitment by Save the Children Colombia to launch a new ‘Accountability and Child Participation Strategy’ for their country context, drawing directly on the findings of the RLI research study. In response to the research findings, Save the Children Colombia are also establishing accountability and child participation ‘Champions’ located in each Save the Children Colombia field office, and new child-friendly complaints and feedback mechanisms in all field offices relevant to the full portfolio of activities and programmes.

A full version of the report in English and Spanish can be found here (English) and here (Spanish), and the Summary of Findings (Spanish) can be found here.

Participation of affected populations in humanitarian response 

This research examines humanitarian organisations’ responsiveness to displaced populations in Uganda and Tanzania, and how feedback from such communities is utilised in the humanitarian organisations decision-making processes. In collaboration with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the RLI is undertaking research exploring IRC’s Client Responsive approach to refugee participation, the strengths and weaknesses of the implementation of the approach on the ground and the particular challenges faced by the organisation in the contexts in which they work.  

During the pandemic, the RLI has undertaken a real-time evaluation of the impact of Covid-19 on IRC Uganda’s humanitarian response and accountability to affected populations. A report on Covid-19 impact on the IRC’s activities and accountability has been produced and can be found here. While the report focuses on IRC Uganda’s application of Client Responsiveness during the Covid-19 pandemic, key findings and lessons are relevant and applicable to other IRC country programmes, as well as other humanitarian organisations. The report shows how humanitarian organisations can be accountable to the communities they serve even during a pandemic when engagement between humanitarian staff and affected populations is heavily restricted due to lockdown regulations. IRC Uganda country programme demonstrated how challenges can be overcome by adapting programming and communication channels, and by finding new and different strategies to support refugees, reach remote areas and the most vulnerable people. New strategies and ways of operating can improve programming in ordinary times too. 

A full version of the report can be found here.

Cash-based interventions and humanitarian accountability 

In collaboration with RECAP partners BRAC and LSHTM, the RLI is examining the value of cash-based humanitarian interventions (CBIs) and their contribution to the pursuit of humanitarian accountability in displacement contexts. Research has been undertaken in the Ugandan settlements of Arua and Kiryandongo, where in recent years, many of CBIs’ innovative and impactful traits have been traced and discussed. The study contributes a detailed analysis of refugee decision-making and the numerous variables present that may impact the effectuation of choice. It also provides opportunity to contextualise the provision of cash, and humanitarian engagement of refugee populations, in the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Other activities   

The research team also serve as special advisors on various humanitarian platforms, including the Special Advisory Board of the Migration Emergency Response Fund (MERF) operated and managed by the Start Network, and the Steering Group of a Core Humanitarian Standards (CHS) Alliance Learning Event. 

As part of the RECAP project’s focus on accountability to civil society, equitable partnerships and commitment to redressing inequality in research processes and practices, the RECAP team is undertaking research on academic publishing in refugee contexts. In partnership with LERRN (Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, at Carleton University, Canada), the RECAP team is exploring the geographies of submissions to the Refugee Survey Quarterly journal, to assess how ‘global’ submissions are in terms of topics and authors. The research will inform and facilitate discussions on how academic journals could support authors from under-represented backgrounds and countries.



The RLI’s ongoing seminar series on ‘Humanitarian Accountability in Displacement Contexts’ provides a forum for discussion open to academics, practitioners and those with an interest in humanitarian and forced displacement issues.

Seminars have included: 

"Accountability to refugees during the covid-19 pandemic: exploring the humanitarian response in Uganda and Bangladesh"
Dr Sarah Singer and Dr Diana Martin (1 December 2021)

“Technology and humanitarian accountability: a risk assessment” 
Kristin Bergtora Sandvik, Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies at PRIO, University of Oslo (26 February 2020)

“Humanitarian accountability: stuck in the slow lane?” 
Marc DuBois, independent humanitarian analyst and Senior Fellow at SOAS (29 January 2020)

“Revisiting accountability of humanitarian actors and researchers: Lessons from field-research with refugee populations in East Africa”
Naohiko Omata, Senior Research Offi cer, Oxford University (13 June 2019)

“Taking humanitarian accountability to the next level”
Dorothea Hilhorst, Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction, Erasmus University Rotterdam (4 April 2019)

“How to make the humanitarian system fit for purpose: a bottom-up approach”
Nick Van Pragg, Executive Director and Founder, Ground Truth Solutions (28 March 2019)