OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Regenerative Toolkit for Refugee Camps & Informal Settlement Design

Through systems-thinking, a human centered approach and permaculture design we offer regenerative solutions to the global refugee crisis.

Photo of Nick
0 2

Written by

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

This project is a collaboration of humanitarian practitioners, systems thinkers, and refugees seeking to improve the design and livability of refugee camps and informal settlements for displaced people. With integrated frameworks derived from systems theory, regenerative design and existing best practices we seek to preposition social, economic and environmental regeneration. The Regenerative Toolkit for Settlement Design consists of; • Design principles specific to refugee camps • A Contradictions Model acknowledging the inherent complexity of these situations • Regenerative continuum providing contextualized solutions along 50 key areas corresponding to existing humanitarian standards • Pattern Language facilitating the connections and placement of shelters, service centers, water, sanitation and 28 other essential patterns. The toolkit is designed to function with, and build upon existing SPHERE standards and the widely adopted Core Humanitarian Standards to facilitate integration by existing humanitarian organizations. The frameworks are applicable as generative tools for settlement design and allow for contextualized solutions that are culturally and climatically relevant. Additionally, the tools can be used as an evaluative process for decision makers to help identify acupuncture points for intervention. Through site visits to refugee camps, collaborative design sessions and peer review the toolkit combines bottom-up decision making with existing top-down policies and practices. We are currently compiling case studies and best practices from organizations to provide a foundation for the work and are also in the initial phases of a pilot project in the Western Sahara refugee camps. By collaborating with humanitarian organizations, practitioners and refugees we are creating a tool that bridges the gap between decision makers and beneficiaries to create settlements that support individuals and host communities while enhancing ecosystems.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

This project will assist the ever increasing population of displaced people, with more than 65 million currently in this situation, and over 10 million newly displaced during 2016. Refugee situations are becoming increasingly protracted, with camps designed for short-term use but occupied for long-term durations. As of 2016, 4.1 million people are in protracted displacement of over 20 years. Refugee camps are often overcrowded, on marginalized land, where water and food supplies tend to be unreliable, culminating in an imbalance with human life and the ecological surroundings. The result is an ever increasing pressure in these regions, where the context is already brittle; socially, economically and environmentally. While refugees are the main beneficiaries, the toolkit is designed to be adopted by humanitarian organizations to aid in the successful deployment of regenerative solutions and to ensure wide-scale adoption.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Complex and evolving problems such as the global refugee crisis cannot be addressed through the same paradigm that created them. The prevailing silo approach of the humanitarian sector attempts to create order within the multitude of stakeholders by segregating social needs, food, shelter and safety so that each can be tracked and coordinated independently. This approach often leads to fragmented solutions which do not take into account their externalities on the other systems at play. Through systems-thinking and regenerative frameworks–in this case acknowledging all facets of settlement design (built environment, economics, ecology, human rights, well-being, basic needs and meaning, etc.) and its impact on people–a profound growth and resilience through systemic inter-connectivity can emerge for the world's most vulnerable people. The toolkit invites integrative design, identifying acupuncture points and offering recommendations towards a more durable solution.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

This is a collaboration of the Blueprint Alliance (, an international alliance with diverse expertise within humanitarian aid and development and Surplus Permaculture Design (, a design collective specializing in systemic integration and holistic design.

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Imagine a world where refugees are welcomed, are seen as agents of change, and are valued for the people they are and the embodied skills they posses. We see a world where refugee settlements help to regenerate the environment they sit within, support the growth of the people who occupy them and benefit the surrounding host community.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

The global refugee crisis cannot be addressed as only a political, cultural, or environmental problem, but as a result of systemic breakdowns. As displacement numbers grow, root causes must be addressed to create safe and supportive environments allowing for local autonomy. A core foundation of our work is the interconnection of environment, society, and individuals and the belief that regenerative solutions can have an impact on all three. Through effective design and implementation, including collaboration between stakeholders, refugee settlements can promote human actualization while improving the environmental conditions and being a boon to the host community.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

This project is a collaboration of the Blueprint Alliance, Surplus Permaculture Design and an extended network of practitioners and organizations. Collaborative design sessions and periodic peer reviews help to maintain the scope and direction of the project. We are in the process of partnering for pilot projects at multiple scales and situations to loop information back into the toolkit. One pilot project is in the Western Sahara refuge camps in Algeria, where the political situation has forced over 100,000 people into a protracted situation in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Through collaboration with individuals in the camps we are seeking to provide education and training for the establishment of regenerative businesses that promote environmental regeneration, food security and right livelihoods. Additionally, another project is in the design phase for a model site for 200 inhabitants in Portugal to be used as a learning center for regenerative design and technologies.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

As an alliance of humanitarian practitioners across a wide spectrum of fields (shelter, WASH, health, safety, community engagement) with working experience in different contexts, we bring a deep understanding of the potential of displaced people and the existing limitations imposed upon them by inhumane design.

Geographic Focus

Any region containing informal settlements or refugee camps.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

2017 - Phase 1 consisted of a review of existing practices, interviews of practitioners and refugees, camp site visits and the creation of the toolkit frameworks. Current - Phase 2 covers detailed design of the guidelines, contradictions model, regenerative continuum and pattern language. 2018 - Phase 3 will initiate three pilot projects along with a peer-review process. 2019-2020 - The final phase of a collaborative roll-out is projected with 24-36 months.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No


Join the conversation: