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Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Chapter 2.5 Institutionalising DRR within organisations

Knowledge-sharing

Photo: Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Good knowledge management should be integral to how DRR organisations operate. Knowledge management is challenging given that DRR is such a broad area of work and involves so many different types of knowledge and institutions. Institutional memories are often weak, project documentation may be non-existent or difficult to find and its quality may vary considerably. Staff turnover hinders consolidation of learning within organisations. Material generated by head offices may be too formal or abstract, and initiatives from headquarters may be regarded as top-down or out of touch by staff in the field, who mostly want information that is directly relevant to their immediate, practical objectives. Field staff themselves often do not realise how useful their knowledge may be to others. Agencies should encourage reflective practice, where staff are given opportunities to record, think about and share their knowledge, experiences and ideas (along with this, agencies should encourage the development and testing of innovative approaches that might generate new lessons).

Communities of practice – groups of people who share a common role, interest or technical skill – have an important part to play in raising awareness of DRR’s value and stimulating innovative approaches, both within and between organisations. These are often informal networks (although professional associations can also perform this role), without fixed membership and operating independently of bureaucratic hierarchies. Their activities typically include collecting and sharing information, discussing issues and methods, problem solving, documenting experiences and identifying knowledge gaps (see Case Study 2.4: The Gender and Disaster Network). Inter-institutional learning networks collect, debate and disseminate useful knowledge on good practice; the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP) plays this role in the international humanitarian sector, and several countries have national networks of DRR practitioners (see also Case Study 2.5: Inter-agency learning).

Case Study 2.4 The Gender and Disaster Network

The Gender and Disaster Network (GDN) began in 1997 as an educational project by a group of researchers interested in gender relations in disaster contexts. Today it has more than 1,000 members around the world. GDN promotes gender mainstreaming in DRR through advocacy, information gathering and knowledge sharing. It documents and analyses women’s and men’s experiences before, during and after disasters; supports applied research and collaboration; shares information and resources; and maintains an international community of researchers and activists. Its website (www.gdonline.org) is an international forum for discussion, networking and information exchange. The website holds a large number of documents relating to policy, planning, practice, communications, training and evaluation, and its Gender and Disaster Sourcebook is a key resource for practitioners and researchers. GDN also runs a lively email discussion list. Membership is open to anyone who shares GDN’s goals.

 

Case Study 2.5 Inter-agency learning

In 2005, five international NGOs (ActionAid, Christian Aid, Plan International, Practical Action and Tearfund) received funding from DFID to implement large-scale DRR programmes over a five-year period. An inter-agency group to share knowledge and discuss common issues met regularly in the following years. Each agency submitted reports and evaluations on their own projects, but the inter-agency group and DFID agreed that there should also be a collective ‘learning review’ to synthesise learning and evidence from across the different initiatives.

The review was based on a peer review approach in which each agency offered lessons from its work to the rest of the group for discussion. These highlighted what had gone well in building resilience, as well as problems and challenges. The process involved three group workshops, sharing and revision of texts and ongoing dialogue by email and telephone. A number of agency staff took part in the process and over 100 evaluation reports, case studies, operational and training manuals, research papers, institutional analyses and DVDs were collected and reviewed. Important issues and themes were distilled gradually from this iterative process: this was a challenging task requiring considerable thought and debate. The most common and important themes identified were then collated into a concise, readable report which was shared with other agencies working on DRR.

J. Twigg and H. Bottomley, Disaster Risk Reduction: Inter-Agency Group Learning Review (London: DRR Interagency Co-ordination Group, 2011), http://www.preventionweb.net/files/21185_drrreviewweb5b15d1.pdf.

2.5.1 Professional training and standards

Professional training and education are essential components of capacity-building in all organisations. Continuity of learning is needed: regular in-house training, workshops and briefings are a better way of developing skills, knowledge and understanding at all levels in the organisation than short-term inputs, such as one-off training sessions (see Case Study 2.6: Designing training programmes for DRR). Such training should also be aligned with broader organisational development initiatives.

Case Study 2.6 Designing training programmes for DRR

The Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA), founded in 2009, is a consortium of international development organisations working with government agencies and other partners in Ethiopia, Uganda and Mozambique. In Ethiopia, ACCRA and its partners have developed a training programme for government and civil society organisations to mainstream DRR and climate change adaptation. Training is delivered over nine months through three workshops. Each workshop builds on the preceding one and the work becomes progressively more detailed and intensive. The first workshop focuses on key concepts and strategies, the second on developing the knowledge and skills to build local adaptive capacity and the third on how to mainstream DRR and climate change adaptation into projects and programmes. Participants develop relevant and practical outputs in the form of funding proposals, and are mentored between workshops. The initiative focuses on practical learning that can be readily applied, provides knowledge and skills gradually and incrementally and brings together a range of participants with different expertise and from a variety of agencies.

ACCRA, Training for Sustainable Impact – Mainstreaming of CCA and DRM, Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance.

The number and range of courses on risk and disaster management seems to have increased massively over the past decade in most parts of the world; in fact they have proliferated so rapidly that an overview of this field is not possible. Many national government organisations for coordinating disaster management offer courses to government officials or outside organisations. Courses in community-based disaster management, pioneered by the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center and other organisations in the 1990s, have become more common. Other agencies have published training manuals and materials for project and community workers.

There are more graduate and undergraduate courses on offer in universities (though still mostly in high-income countries). Shorter courses for professional development are available in a variety of subjects. E-learning courses are also becoming more widely available and accessible: these cost less than face-to-face training, though they cannot substitute completely for direct interaction. E-learning opportunities range from Masters-level courses at universities to short training courses.+See for example the World Bank Institute’s wide-ranging e-learning programme for development practitioners: http://einstitute.worldbank.org. Individual agencies also give internal courses for head office staff, local offices and partners.

There are no common standards for training in disaster management or DRR internationally, although a number of countries have formalised accreditation for training in various aspects of emergency management. The development and application of minimum standards in specific areas of competence is needed to raise the quality of training, planning, implementation and evaluation, but DRR is such a wide field of activity that it could be difficult to develop common certification overall.

Agencies’ experiences suggest that one should ask the following questions when considering running training courses or sending staff on other institutions’ courses.

  • Does the demand for training in your organisation reflect a genuine need, or is ‘training’ seen as a panacea without proper consideration of its cost or value? Training is expensive. Be clear about what it can realistically deliver. Set goals and indicators.
  • How will you ensure that the skills and knowledge individual trainees receive are applied and shared across the organisation? Staff may move to jobs elsewhere, taking their expertise with them.
  • Do you have a long-term training plan? One-off training is not very effective in changing attitudes and practice unless there is adequate follow-up in the form of additional training or on-the-job support.
  • Are there courses available that meet your needs, run either by specialist training institutions or by other organisations for their staff and partners? If not, is it cost-effective to design your own, or might it be better to collaborate with other agencies?
  • Are you aware of the training materials that are available? Could you adapt these to your own purposes, as free-standing training or integrated into your existing staff development programmes?
  • Is conventional training in risk or disaster management really what your staff need? How useful is it to learn the details of disaster theory and technical terminology, which is a major part of many courses?
  • Is formal training the best way for your organisation to acquire new ideas? A lot of information spreads informally in organisations.
  • Should your organisation act as an educational ‘multiplier’ by extending training to community organisations? Is the ‘training of trainers’ approach the best way of supporting local partners?
  • Training generates demands from staff and partners, especially for follow-up initiatives (which require resources). Those who provide training, or help others to get it, have a responsibility to support activities that arise from it. Does your organisation have the motivation and capacity to do this?

2.5.2 External learning resources

There is much more knowledge about disasters, vulnerability, DRR and resilience than there was even a few years ago, and interest in these issues continues to expand. The number of research centres and institutes has grown significantly across the world. There is a growing body of interdisciplinary and applied research, although more needs to be done to bring natural and social scientists together, and to bring researchers and practitioners together. At operational levels, there is more emphasis on learning from experience, through evaluations and reviews (see Chapter 18), and disseminating the results. Well researched, thoughtful and constructively critical reports have become more widely available.

DRR knowledge network focal points and information hubs have also multiplied, helping to build up strong and active communities of practice. Electronic listservs and newsletters on DRR are numerous and freely accessible. Email discussion groups and groups on social networking sites such as facebook can be an effective way of sharing information and creating links between professionals in different countries. Electronic conferences give researchers and practitioners around the world an opportunity to take part in debates on particular issues, and webinars and podcasts make debates and discussions accessible to people who cannot attend in person. Video-conferencing is becoming more common and affordable through internet communications tools such as skype. Technically, electronic meetings and conferencing are not difficult, but managing them may be time-consuming; good preparation and a good internet connection are essential.

Box 2.1 International DRR networks, documentation centres and information-sharing platforms

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center: http://www.adpc.net
DRR and Building Resilience Community: http://community.eldis.org/.59e3c45b
Emergency Capacity Building Project: http://www.ecbproject.org
Gender and Disaster Network: http://www.gdnonline.org
Humanitarian Practice Network: http://www.odihpn.org
Natural Hazards Center: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards
PreventionWeb: http://www.preventionweb.net
ReliefWeb: http://www.reliefweb.int
Risk Reduction Africa: http://www.riskreductionafrica.org

Operational agencies are increasingly publishing books, guidelines, reports, journals and newsletters electronically as well as in print. In some countries academic research centres are now expected or encouraged to make their research findings openly available. Unfortunately, much of the online literature on DRR is ‘grey’ and so does not feature in standard library catalogues, although some can be identified through web-based catalogues such as the Natural Hazards Center’s HazLit database and the Institute for Development Studies’ eldis gateway site (which has over 30,000 summaries and links to topics on all aspects of sustainable development, including DRR).+See http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/library; http://www.eldis.org