Research insights into the barriers to use of satellite-derived geospatial information in humanitarian emergencies

This document was originally developed by Caribou Space as a private-domain deliverable for the UK Humanitarian Innovation Hub, a pilot initiative of the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO). The document was produced as part of a project focusing on the use of satellite technologies in humanitarian decision-making and in follow-up to the Beyond Borders research, published in 2022.

The Beyond Borders research identified a dozen barriers that may be delaying or preventing the use of satellite-enabled data in humanitarian decision making. This document is a deeper analysis of three of those barriers, arranged as a set of eleven key insights:

• Low awareness of potential use cases or resistance to or mistrust of these tools.
• Low technical expertise, restricting the use of satellite technology.
• Concerns relating to the ethics of using satellite data and privacy and security implications of its use and storage.


These insights were distilled from a combination of two sources: ‘user’ level interviews and desk research into the current landscape of initiatives.

User Interviews

User interviews were carried out with around 15-20 humanitarians who have decision-making responsibilities and who may or may not already be using satellite data to support those decisions. In some cases we interviewed Geographic Information System (GIS) experts working within humanitarian organisations that could present the perspective of ‘users’, given their responsibilities for supporting colleagues to adopt geospatial information.

The following topic areas were explored during interviews:
• Interviewees’ roles, objectives and decision-making responsibilities.
• Awareness of, and familiarity with, satellite technology and its potential use cases in the humanitarian sector. • Awareness of resources that could support the uptake of satellite technology.
• Concerns or questions relating to the use of satellite technologies.
• Factors that could make interviewees more (or less) likely to use satellite technologies to make decisions.

Existing Initiatives

The user interviews were complemented with desk research into existing initiatives that have been established to address the three barriers mentioned above. The aim of this research was to understand the nature of the support or service being offered, to analyse the diversity of similar offerings and to identify any potential limitations or gaps in the offering.

Some of the initiatives selected were specific to humanitarian contexts, whilst others had a broader thematic focus. Similarly, while some initiatives were specific to the use of satellite-derived information, others focussed on other technologies and data sources.

The research conducted was not intended to be exhaustive and initiatives mentioned in this document are used as indicative examples only.