What ethical challenges exist for the use of drones in humanitarian work?  


New and innovative technologies can help in all aspects of life. It is therefore not surprising that humanitarian organizations have started to make use of such new technologies, especially when it comes to response in crises. Yet, these innovative technologies are not ethically uncontested and humanitarian actors will have to come up with new policies and guidelines. Using the example of drones, and combining findings of case studies and normative analysis, this project aims to create an ethical framework, and publicly accessible governance toolkits in order to ensure responsible innovation.

The main research questions of the project are:

– What is known about the interplay between technological innovation and ethical values, norms and commitments, in the humanitarian use of drones?

– How should the shared or disparate values of humanitarian stakeholders be interpreted and addressed in the development and deployment of drones? 

– What policies and guidance tools can best direct the integration of ethical values in humanitarian innovations? 

In order to adress these questions, the research team has developed a blended methodology, including a scoping review of academic and informal literature concerning the interplay of ethical values and technological innovation; case studies within the constructivist paradigm on current drone practices in humanitarian contexts; the development of a guidance framework and toolkits with partners and practitionners, for future use.

Project Keywords

  • Drones
  • Technology
  • Innovation
  • Humanitarian Aid


  • Ethics
  • Political science
  • Organizational Studies


International Organizations

  • WHO
  • World Food Programme

NGOs, States or other institutions

  • MSF
  • Humanitarian Innovation Fund
  • WeRobotics
  • Peace Research Institute Oslo

Relevant Countries

  • Madagascar
  • Mozambique
  • Nepal
  • Papua New Guinea


This is an ongoing project, which started in autumn 2018. The information here is updated regularly. If you have any inquiries please don’t hesitate to contact the project team via the form below.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Markus Christen
University of Zurich

Matthew Hunt
McGill University, Montreal

Ning Wang
Principal Member
University of Zurich

Thomas Burri
Associated Member
University of St. Gallen

Gloria Gonzalez Fuster
Associated Member
Vrije Universiteit, Brussels