Written by Tamara Mahoney

The issue being addressed: Energy Access in Humanitarian settings

Access to reliable and sustainable energy systems and services is a fundamental need that affects diverse populations across the globe. However, certain communities, such as forcibly displaced populations (including, but not limited to, refugees and internally displaced persons), face unique challenges in obtaining modern, reliable, and sustainable energy systems. These challenges include limited access to electricity grids, reliance on inefficient and hazardous energy sources, and insufficient infrastructure in camps, resettlement sites, integrated settlements or host communities.


Outsight International, in collaboration with EnAccess, are together driving an initiative that will more easily allow Energy Practitioners to embed the needs, wants, and aspirations of these groups within their energy programming. By focusing on the specific needs of forcibly displaced individuals and communities, this project aims to empower them in decision-making processes that will create sustainable, open solutions that cater to their energy requirements. However, unlike many other humanitarian innovation projects, the true innovation of the Co-Design Toolbox is the intention to not create (another) something new.


“Ultimately, we’re not trying to create new knowledge or develop new tools. What we’re saying is stop, look around, and better understand what already exists, and what’s already been done. Through the lens of co-design –  which we define as this big broad range of approaches and themes and methods that communicated complexity – we can understand where core concepts, challenges, and learnings sit relative to each other and how we can leverage those to create more effective energy ecosystems.”


– Ben Robinson, Outsight International

What is the Open Source Humanitarian Co-Design Toolbox?


The Open Source Humanitarian Co-Design Toolbox enables practitioners, researchers, and displaced communities to access a wealth of open-source resources, including design templates, technical specifications, and best practice guides. By facilitating collaboration and knowledge sharing, the toolbox promotes the collective intelligence of diverse stakeholders, ultimately leading to the emergence of context-specific energy systems and services.



The target users of this resource are:


1. Humanitarian energy practitioners who are looking to mainstream inclusive, sustainable and ethical energy design processes.


2. Humanitarian practitioners in the wider humanitarian sector looking to deploy technological focussed systems and services within the entire socio-cultural, environmental, and financial contextual ecosystem.


3. Policy makers at the national and international level who are interested in evidence-based inclusive and participatory policy making.



The deliverables of the project are planned in two steps:


1. Our database of resources will be  transformed into a visual system map that enables potential users to navigate the complexities of co-design. The various disconnected processes that the energy end-users currently live with will be collated, connected, and understood, leading to usable resources of available tools, resources, and publications for co-design.  


2 The second phase will be an Open Source  training pack that practitioners will be able to use independently to increase the effectiveness of their programs as well as conversing with Outsight International to begin the strategic change within organizations to mainstream these co-design processes.




How exactly might things change?


The Open Source Humanitarian Co-Design Toolbox represents a pioneering initiative that addresses the systematic energy-related challenges felt by humanitarian practitioners, energy service providers, and ultimately faced by forcibly displaced populations. The project aims to empower communities to shape their own energy futures by prioritizing the active involvement of displaced individuals and communities in decision-making processes, leveraging open-source principles, and fostering collaboration.


Let’s take a look at what the change process really looks like and what this project could achieve: In the current system, the pain point is that helpful information simply doesn’t get communicated properly. There are Humanitarian organizations, large NGOs, donors, government institutions, community organizations, and the community of forcibly disabled people aren’t working with a well-functioning system of communication. Imagine physical walls separating every different entity along the Humanitarian System path – these barriers result in the inability to see the real (and often changing) needs of the people who will be benefiting from these projects.


This project is fundamentally about building better humanitarian energy projects by connecting people through the co-design approach. Instead of walls and barriers, we aim to create a way forward where all the players have a way to create real and lasting collaboration. We aim to break down walls, allow information to openly flow, and create the best possible energy systems and services for, and created with, forcibly displaced people.


Leveraging open-source principles for innovation and collaboration


Open-source principles lie at the heart of the project’s approach, driving collaboration within the humanitarian energy sector. By embracing open source methodologies, the project encourages the sharing of ideas, designs, and technical expertise to accelerate the development and deployment of energy solutions.


“If you work on an open platform, you are held accountable much more effectively. And in terms of sustainability, other people can update and access everything, the ownership of this toolbox becomes community-based and not sitting on a shelf. Because when things sit on a shelf, they don’t get used or they get lost and then what’s the point?”


-Ben Robinson, Outsight International

EnAccess is excited to collaborate with Outsight International and promote the idea of sustainable design and development of Big Ideas, and have the opportunity to reach out to Energy service providers to show them an easier way of working in humanitarian settings.


“EnAccess sees enormous value in Open Sourcing this Toolbox. First, by providing a well-structured and high-quality Open Source and Open Access database of available resources and tools, repetitive work and research are being done—collective contribution and collaboration instead of reinventing the wheel. Secondly, by leveraging our networks, we can help build a bridge between humanitarian settings and energy access practitioners to best respond to the people’s needs. Third, we are convinced that making co-design methodologies and tools understood and accessible will increase the long-term success and sustainability of energy access approaches in general.”


– Vivien Barnier, EnAccess CEO

This project serves as a shining example of how innovation, collaboration, and inclusivity can drive positive change in the humanitarian energy sector, ultimately enhancing the lives and well-being of forcibly displaced populations around the world.