This internal study focused on the Knowledge Pillar of the Humanitarian Leadership Academy's strategy. It identified gaps in the availability of training content and the accessibility of humanitarian knowledge in crisis-affected communities, through addressing three main questions:

  1. How effective are the currently available learning and capacity building mechanisms within the humanitarian sector (for individuals and organisations)?
  2. How is local knowledge most effectively captured, managed and shared?
  3. What partnerships with knowledge producers and researchers exist and where are the gaps?

The first two phases of the research process involved extensive mapping of relevant literature and capacity building programmes. This allowed the research team to identify how learning is conceptualised in the sector by organisations and individuals and assess the range of current approaches. The third phase included an analysis of the themes, trends and gaps in humanitarian learning and capacity building, as well as relevant key informant interviews and the production of a set of case studies. These provided greater insight into current best practice.

The research indicated that knowledge sharing during a humanitarian response can be characterised by a 'complex' or 'adaptive' system. Knowledge often moves between a myriad of actors, across multiple information communication channels, and via feedback loops that are fluid and unpredictable. Because humanitarian knowledge is held within a complex system, an effective humanitarian response requires access to many different types of knowledge, which can be broken down into: background, situational, functional and operational knowledge. Background knowledge is the unique history, geography and culture of a humanitarian context. Situational knowledge incorporates everything a humanitarian must know about the needs, conditions and locations of the affected population. Functional knowledge is the knowledge needed to interpret a humanitarian scenario, and is required for planners and decision makers. Finally, operational knowledge includes the principles, standards, and best practices needed to implement a specific activity or response.

In order to capture and mobilise this knowledge, the research emphasised the importance of including local actors in the design and contextualisation of resources, of designing workshops that account for different learning styles, of providing ample opportunity for networking during training, and of follow-up activities. The research assessed the five dominant forms of knowledge sharing: classroom-based learning, online and blended learning, simulation, coaching and mentoring, and peer-to-peer networks. It reviewed the role of learning and capacity building to strengthen local preparedness and resilience in disaster response, and called for more opportunities for south-south knowledge sharing and for making use of technology to share local and indigenous knowledge.