Download Chapter
Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Chapter 2.3 Institutionalising DRR within organisations

Planning and operational guidelines

Photo: Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Most agencies work to geographical strategies and plans, at regional, country or district level; some plan their work sectorally (e.g. small enterprise development, health, education); others have both geographical and sectoral plans. These may guide an agency’s work and set priorities for relatively long periods, perhaps up to five years. These plans should include an assessment of the major hazards, vulnerabilities and risks, and should outline appropriate risk reduction strategies. Methods for carrying out such assessments are outlined in Chapter 3. Explicit decisions should be made about which risks to address, and how to do so.

Like geographical and sectoral plans, programme and project proposals should also include risk assessments and plans to deal with risks. Where agencies use logical or results-based frameworks to design their projects, as many do, the framework’s ‘risks/assumptions’ component should take hazards and disasters into account. Because these are almost always viewed as external factors beyond a project’s control, merely identifying risks is a weak indicator that project designers are actually planning to deal with them. So-called ‘killer’ assumptions, where projects are likely to fail if the assumptions turn out to be wrong – such as the assumption that there will be no major disasters – are sometimes left out of logical frameworks in funding proposals for fear of alarming donors.

Risk analysis, treatment and monitoring can be inserted into many operational guidelines without great difficulty. The simplest way to do this is to add a few basic questions or criteria to standard project checklists, such as:

  • Will the project affect people’s vulnerability to man-made and other disasters?
  • What impact will the project have on socio-economic vulnerability and resilience?
  • What significant hazards might affect the target group?
  • How will the project identify and reduce hazard risks to its beneficiaries?
  • How does the project assess the likelihood of disasters and, where appropriate, prepare the community and the project itself to deal with disaster situations?

Detailed operational manuals are another matter: here, more thorough guidance will be required. The other chapters in this Good Practice Review cover issues that such manuals will need to consider, including specific tools for appraisal, monitoring, assessment and participation. The existence of operational guidelines does not, of course, guarantee that staff will use them. There must be a supporting commitment from agency personnel.

Operational guidelines vary greatly in quality. In larger agencies they are more likely to be comprehensive and detailed, but for this reason less likely to be read. Simpler versions may be more accessible, but contain limited practical guidance on planning and implementation, or on assessing proposals from partners. Moreover, operational guidelines often contain so many issues to consider that no development or emergency programme can address them all adequately, and some are bound to be squeezed out by those that appear more important. The guidelines themselves tend to allow for this, often being meant to guide rather than prescribe. This gives project planners and managers considerable discretion.

An extensive process of research/analysis, methodological development and testing, internal advocacy and training is required to bring operational innovations into the organisational mainstream. Organisations may believe that it will be too difficult or impractical to integrate DRR into all their programmes, and may instead opt for stand-alone DRR strategies and projects that are easier to implement. This runs counter to the aims of DRR, which is not a separate sector but a cross-cutting issue, and may leave DRR isolated or marginalised within the organisation.

Organisations’ planning and policy decisions are never made in isolation from the wider context of events, societies and institutions. In this sense, they are essentially ‘political’ decisions; they are certainly not purely technical ones. In particular, the ideologies and policies of governments, donors and other institutional actors help to shape the context in which the work will take place, and should be analysed as part of project planning. For instance, an agency may want to build flexibility and adaptability into its programming, but it is likely to be constrained by donor requirements that focus on programmes and projects with fixed objectives and timeframes.

Figure 2.1 Decision-making in a political context

ODI 2015

Decision-making in a political context

Mitigating Natural Disasters: Phenomena, Effects and Options – A Manual for Policy Makers and Planners (New York: Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator, 1991).