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Chapter 3.3 Project Planning

Project planning

Photo: Lakshman Nadaraja/World Bank

Many of the features of good project design set out in this section are common to project planning in general, as well as to DRR initiatives. Among the main issues to be considered in planning are:

  • Process. Planning should be approached as a process, not merely the production of written documents. In particular, it should be seen as a process of continuous improvement, reflecting the idea of risk reduction as a long-term goal to be approached gradually. This means that one should not try to work out all the details at the outset.
  • Clarity. There must be clarity about the overall goals, strategies and scope of the activities to be undertaken. Project plans should also be clear about how proposed activities are linked to broader strategic objectives: logical and other results-based frameworks may help here.
  • Targets. Projects should set targets whose achievement can be verified by monitoring and evaluation. Evaluation of risk reduction work does present problems, as Chapter 18 shows, but that is no excuse for avoiding the issue. Targets should be realistic and understood by everyone involved in the initiative. Targets may also have to change because vulnerability and risk are not static.
  • Analysis. The need for a thorough understanding of the problem cannot be overemphasised. Hazard, vulnerability and risk analysis are well worth the time and effort spent on them. The analysis should include thinking about what might realistically happen in the future, not just about what has happened in the past or what an assessment shows could happen in the present. The nature of communities’ vulnerability can alter very quickly under external pressures and opportunities. Anticipate problems.
  • Definition. There are many different dimensions of human vulnerability to disasters and many different ways of approaching the problem. It is very important to define clearly the nature of the project (e.g. activities, participants), its extent (time, location) and its outputs, together with performance criteria.
  • Resources. Inputs and resources should be matched closely to the projected outputs – i.e. outputs should be realistic, given the resources available. Assess the implementing organisation, its capacity to address the risks and needs identified, and factors that support or impair its capacity to deal with those risks. An institutional assessment of the kind outlined in Chapter 2 will help here. Assess partner organisations’ capacity as well (see below).
  • Setting priorities. This is fundamental. All projects need to balance costs, benefits and opportunities. Should the project adopt an all-risks approach or be more selective, targeting specific risks? Is the project designed to reduce the direct, indirect or secondary impacts of disasters (see Box 18.3 for an explanation of these terms)? How does one set priorities regarding not only different hazards and vulnerabilities but also different vulnerable groups? What minor or remote risks are acceptable or tolerable? On what basis should such decisions be made (e.g. the magnitude and frequency of the potential disaster, beneficiary priorities, organisational capacity and resources)? The criteria for making such decisions may be operational, technical, financial, social, humanitarian, political or legal. Analysis of costs and benefits (discussed in Chapter 18) often forms part of this. In a development project, reducing risk will be only one of the project’s goals, so the priority given to it must be agreed at the start.
  • Generic approach. As a general rule, it is better to adopt a generic approach rather than one that is hazard/risk-specific – i.e. one that builds up capacities to deal with the range of threats that will affect a given community. Often, this does not happen in practice, with separate planning around different hazards. Such inefficiency leads to gaps in coverage of disaster threats, and sometimes to disputes between disaster management agencies. This does not mean that agencies should not have priorities, or that all hazard threats can be treated identically; rather, it means that the basic human and organisational problems of preparing for disasters are similar, whatever the hazard. However, one should not focus so much on one hazard that other significant risks are overlooked.
  • Partnership and capacities. Agree roles and responsibilities within the organisation and with partners well in advance. No organisation or group can work alone. Understanding the capacities of individuals, communities and agencies who might be involved in a project is essential to good planning. Identify all relevant internal and external stakeholders, considering everyone who might be affected by an intervention, or who might have influence over it: what are their roles and capacities, how does the implementing organisation relate to them and how can its work complement or support theirs? Partners and stakeholders should be involved in the planning process, not simply written into the plans. Stakeholder partnerships are discussed in more detail in Chapter 4 (see also Box 3.1: Integrating science into project planning).
  • Integration. Take an integrated approach to the problem. There is rarely, if ever, one single option for reducing risk. A package of measures will be required, based on an all-round view of hazards, vulnerabilities and livelihood options. Choices will have to be made according to local needs, the likely success of different interventions and the resources available. Integrating risk reduction into development programmes is very important.
  • Flexibility. This is essential. It requires process, not blueprint, planning that can adapt according to changes in understanding and circumstances.
  • Assumptions. These should be stated clearly at the outset so that all partners are aware of them. What external factors might affect the project’s implementation and long-term sustainability? What are the risks – natural, social, economic, political – to the project?

Box 3.1 Integrating science into project planning

It is generally acknowledged that there is a need to integrate scientific knowledge and understanding of risk into the planning of humanitarian and development projects. In the past, this has happened infrequently and has been based on personal contacts and one-off activities more than systematic collaboration. Recent guidelines explain how the scientific community (natural and social science) and NGOs can engage more effectively with each other to reduce risk. They set out five main areas of activity for effective integration of science into DRR practice:

  1. Defining the problem to be addressed. It is easier to build a dialogue around an initial set of questions than a vague concept. Having clear aims and objectives also helps subsequent monitoring and evaluation.
  2. Accessing scientific information, knowledge and expertise. Ongoing partnerships with scientists and scientific organisations are recommended, as is the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and experts. These partnerships should be established before planning individual projects or managing crises.
  3. Understanding the science and assessing its credibility. Scientific information should be trustworthy and representative of the real world. Practitioners and other users of science need to acquire the skills to determine its credibility and the level of uncertainty in scientific information and assessment. Seeking out more than one source of information, and appreciating that there may be scientific debate about particular issues, is advisable.
  4. Applying scientific information and methods. Scientific information should be applied in an ethical and accountable manner. It is important to have an agreed set of values and to put accountability mechanisms in place.
  5. Measuring the impact of science integration. It is essential to know what impact the application of scientific knowledge has had on vulnerable communities. Monitoring should take place throughout the project cycle.

The guidelines also note the importance of managing expectations in these partnerships, finding suitable entry points for scientific investigation and knowledge, ensuring the process of integration is well managed and benefits everyone involved, and engaging communities fully in the process so that they can make their own informed decisions. Emphasis is placed on the ‘co-production’ of scientific knowledge about risk by scientists, practitioners and communities.

M. Duncan et al., Integrating Science into Humanitarian and Development Planning and Practice To Enhance Community Resilience: Full Guidelines (London: CAFOD, 2014), For a case study of successful collaboration between climate scientists, vulnerable communities and field agencies, see Operationalising Climate Science: An Exchange Between Climate Scientists and Humanitarian and Development Policymakers: Senegal Demonstration Case Study (London: Climate and Development Knowledge Network, 2012,

3.3.1 Integrating DRR into development projects

This should be considered right from the start of the project cycle, with good situation analysis identifying risks, vulnerabilities and capacities at an early stage. DRR can be incorporated into standard project planning tools, such as logical frameworks, environmental assessments and social impact assessments, relatively easily and effectively.+C. Benson and J. Twigg with T. Rossetto, Tools for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Reduction: Guidance Notes for Development Organisations. Guidance Notes 6 (Logical and results-based frameworks), 7 (Environmental assessment) and 11 (Social impact assessment) (Geneva: ProVention Consortium, 2007), It can also be built into the whole project cycle through the use of checklists and entry points. Checklists set out a series of questions relating to DRR, to be answered when developing project planning documents. The entry point approach focuses more on the planning process to ensure that relevant issues are considered throughout the project cycle. Most planning approaches combine the two.