No easy choice: A humanitarian’s guide to ethical, principled decision making

By Nigel Timmins, Manisha Thomas
May 2024

Humanitarians often face difficult ethical dilemmas: from immediate operational choices to bigger strategic questions. A dilemma is defined by the need to choose between two or more difficult options that could have negative consequences. A dilemma means that there is no obvious or ideal choice. Humanitarian principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence) alone do not always help us make the best decision. Principles themselves may ‘create’ the dilemma. When we face only bad options, or the principles are in conflict, ethical deliberation can help us decide on the best way to carry out principled humanitarian action.

This guide offers a tool and a process for structured deliberation to help organisations and individuals make better choices for principled humanitarian action. It is based on an applied ethics approach,which addresses real-world challenges using ethical theories and principles. 

We encourage you to use the guide and tool in your organisations and/or adapt it for your needs. For further information about the guide or potential facilitation support in using the tool, please contact Humanitarian Outcomes or the authors, Nigel Timmins and Manisha Thomas.

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Suggested Citation


Timmins, N., Thomas, M. (2024). No easy choice: A humanitarian’s guide to ethical, principled decision making. Humanitarian Outcomes, United Kingdom Humanitarian Innovation Hub.