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Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Chapter 2.4 Institutionalising DRR within organisations

Staff capacity

Photo: Ed Hawkesworth/DFID

Human capacity in DRR needs to be developed, either by recruiting specialists or providing existing staff with the relevant technical, planning and management skills. Both resources require the investment of time and money. Heavy workloads can be a major obstacle to capacity development. Most people working in relief and development agencies are too busy, most of the time, to reflect on their experiences or absorb new ideas and practices. In many agencies overwork, and pressures of work, have arguably become systemic weaknesses.

Time for individual and group learning about DRR needs to be protected from the demands of heavy workloads. Here the attitude of senior managers is a key factor. Organisations need to be realistic about their timetable for change. They may need to allocate extra funding or hire more staff to cope with increased demands. Wherever possible, they should make full use of existing operational methods and tools, or adapt these to DRR contexts, instead of creating new ones (see Case Study 2.2: Innovation or harmonisation?). If new methods are needed, the process for developing them, rolling them out and ensuring organisational ownership needs to be thorough and well planned (see Case Study 2.3: Mainstreaming participatory vulnerability analysis).

Case Study 2.2 Innovation or harmonisation?

A major international NGO working in relief and development seeking to integrate its work on DRR and sustainable livelihoods more effectively commissioned a consultant to develop a new livelihoods framework and guidance to enable better analysis of vulnerability, hazards and climate change. The consultant reviewed internal documentation and interviewed a number of technical and programme staff in the agency’s head office and country offices. From this, it became clear that the agency was already using a wide range of methods, tools and guidance relating to various aspects of livelihood security and vulnerability; programme managers also had access to technical guidance on all areas of project management.

The consultant’s recommendation was that the agency should focus its efforts not on introducing new tools but on improving its capacity to use and modify existing ones (country programme managers in particular were keen on this). The overall approach should be towards gradual refinement and harmonisation of methods. More emphasis could also be put on peer learning, for example through secondments and creation of communities of practice, with less reliance on the production of technical documents.

Many agencies speak of the need for DRR leaders, champions or focal points. Leadership is a key element in successful DRR mainstreaming, and there is evidence that determined individuals can push significant innovations through if there is sufficient space within institutional structures and systems. People in senior positions or who have been in an organisation for a long time (with good knowledge of the system and extensive personal networks) are particularly well placed to do this.

Specialist technical advisers can be influential in encouraging, advising and supporting project managers. They can operate across an organisation which may otherwise be compartmentalised in its structure and in the focus of its work and thinking. They have a mandate and, crucially, time to think. Their influence can come not just from their position and expertise, but also from their personality and approach, as well as the length of time they have worked in the organisation. External consultants are often used by organisations to assist them in DRR thinking, including policy guidance, project planning and evaluation, technical aspects of project delivery, and training. In many agencies, interest in DRR and resilience has been stimulated by the experience of responding to recent disasters

Case Study 2.3 Mainstreaming participatory vulnerability analysis

In 2000, a study for ActionAid International showed a need for a participatory vulnerability analysis (PVA) method that put greater emphasis on people’s involvement in assessing their own vulnerability, finding solutions and influencing policies. New guidance prepared by academic specialists proved to be too long and detailed for use at field level. ActionAid also realised that it was important for country offices and their staff to be involved in developing the PVA. A new and more appropriate PVA guide was designed, field tested, discussed across the organisation and finally published; training was carried out at country level, involving ActionAid staff from neighbouring countries, and the new PVA method was taken up and applied widely. Success in developing and promoting PVA across the organisation depended on continued commitment from higher management levels in ActionAid, including the allocation of sufficient resources for development, training and facilitation. It also benefited from the enthusiasm of the country programmes involved in piloting and developing it, and from the creation of a cadre of staff willing to champion PVA and share good practice. There were challenges too. One was that PVA users needed to be familiar with other participatory approaches and tools. Effort was also needed to harmonise the PVA approach with some of the other methods used by ActionAid in its development work.

E. Chiwaka, Mainstreaming Participatory Vulnerability Analysis in ActionAid International (London: UCL Hazard Centre, 2005),