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Chapter 4.2 Partnerships, governance and stakeholders

Creating partnerships

Photo: Russell Watkins/DFID

[:en]The disaster ‘community’ – those who are professionally engaged in efforts to prevent disasters and deal with their consequences – is diverse, comprising a wide range of disciplines. These include physical scientists (of many different kinds: earth scientists, hydrologists and meteorologists, for instance), social scientists (also of many different kinds, including geographers, anthropologists, sociologists and economists), engineers, architects, doctors, psychologists, development and emergency planners and humanitarian relief workers. It also comprises very different organisations, including international aid agencies, government (at all levels), NGOs and other civil society organisations, academia, consultancies, military agencies and the private sector. All have a role to play in reducing risk – together, of course, with vulnerable communities, who are the main actors in mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery at local level.

Disasters are complex problems demanding a holistic response from these different disciplinary and institutional groups, but in many cases they do not get this. All too often, the disaster community is characterised by fragmentation along disciplinary and institutional boundaries, a lack of understanding and mutual respect between different disciplines, insufficient dialogue between different actors (e.g. between physical and social scientists, between governments and NGOs or between vulnerable communities and so-called ‘experts’ from outside), a culture of competitiveness and professional jealousy (fuelled by competition for funds) and a greater readiness to talk than to listen.+J. Twigg, Physician, Heal Thyself? The Politics of Disaster Mitigation (London: UCL Hazard Centre, 2011), Another critical failing is that disaster specialists and people working on long-term sustainable development programmes tend to act in isolation from each other.

Partnership-building is not simple or straightforward: it requires a great deal of time, negotiation, sustained effort, transparency, trust, commitment and institutional support (see Case Study 4.2: Building and maintaining partnerships). Skilled facilitation is essential, but in some cases strong leadership may be needed to maintain momentum. Organisations that take on such leadership roles should seek to support the partnership process, not direct it. Often, it is committed and experienced individual members of staff who play leading roles: this creates a high level of dependence upon those individuals, and partnerships may be damaged if they leave to work for organisations elsewhere. It is also important that a partnership is not over-extended geographically, technically or administratively.

Case Study 4.2 Building and maintaining partnerships

Launched in 1997, Project Impact was a US government initiative to make communities more resilient by bringing local actors – government, businesses, communities and NGOs – together to plan and implement their own DRR initiatives. It marked an explicit shift in the role of government from directing to partnering and facilitating, as well as delegating decision-making to local levels. Pilot projects were set up in seven communities, but many more communities and businesses signed up to the programme nationally.

Evaluations of the seven pilot projects identified a considerable number of DRR achievements, but also pointed out some of the challenges in making multi-stakeholder partnerships work. For instance, all the participants had to make a cultural adjustment to working in a participatory way, particularly government staff and the private sector, who had little experience of this approach. A great deal of time and effort was required to keep initiatives moving. An active and effective local coordinator was vital to help maintain momentum. Outreach work was needed to ensure marginal and vulnerable groups were represented in discussions and involved in the projects.

The evaluations also warned that the pilot projects’ high level of dependence on government seed funding raised questions about their long-term sustainability. Shortly afterwards, a newly elected presidential administration brought the programme to a halt. Nevertheless, it appears that Project Impact’s ideas and approach have continued to influence DRR practice in some parts of the country.

Project Impact monitoring and evaluation reports in the Disaster Research Center online library (University of Delaware) at; E. Holdeman and A. Patton, ‘Project Impact Initiative To Create Disaster-Resistant Communities Demonstrates Worth in Kansas Years Later’, Emergency Management, 2008,

Partnerships that are based upon existing institutions and connections may achieve good results more quickly (see Case Study 4.3: Schools, young people and DRR), although there is a risk of such partnerships being too exclusive: inclusion is key to a strong and sustainable partnership. Collaboration around a single common objective is also a good way to start the process of partnership-building (see Case Study 4.4: Developing interagency tools for DRR).

Case Study 4.3 Schools, young people and DRR

Young people can play an important role as agents of change and promoters of DRR (see Chapter 6). Working with young people opens up the possibility of wider community outreach by communicating DRR information through formal pathways (e.g. local leaders and committees) and informal channels (e.g. families, friends, neighbours). The schools that children and young people attend are also important hubs, with connections to other official institutions.

Plan International’s programme in El Salvador to involve young people in disaster prevention worked both with individual school boards and the national Ministry of Education. Linking groups and institutions was central to the strategy. This took a variety of forms, including children’s representation on community and municipal DRR committees; integration of DRR into school teaching and protection plans; and promotion of child-centred DRR in the thinking and practice of central government. The initiative began as a pilot project in February 2005, but by July 2007 over 5,000 schools were preparing school protection plans and DRR had been integrated into the national curriculum.

J. Twigg and H. Bottomley, Disaster Risk Reduction NGO Inter-Agency Group Learning Review (London: DRR NGO Inter-Agency Group, 2011),


Case Study 4.4 Developing interagency tools for DRR

In 2010, a group of humanitarian agencies working in Bolivia began to collaborate on DRR and climate change adaptation. Climate change and associated extreme events are a serious threat to impoverished, minority and vulnerable populations in the country, and agencies needed to work together to tackle such a big and complex issue. The first step was to share knowledge and expertise, from which to build a shared understanding of DRR. From this, a shared Risk Analysis and Participatory Planning (RAPP) tool was developed, derived from existing vulnerability and capacity assessment tools used globally by three of the partners, CARE, Oxfam and World Vision.

The collective development process, facilitated by a consultant from the Emergency Capacity Building Project, ensured staff understanding and acceptance, as well as a product that was adapted to local needs and conditions. As a result, agencies were able to use a common approach when working with communities, local partners and government organisations, and could compare results, pool expertise and communicate more effectively with other stakeholders, including the government.

J. Srodecki, ‘Developing Interagency DRR Tools at Field Level: World Vision’s Experience in Bolivia’, Humanitarian Exchange, no. 51, July 2011,; World Vision, ECB: Adventures in Partnership, Case Study A: Coming Together To Reduce the Impact of Disasters in Bolivia, 2011,

Whatever their focus or scale, DRR partnership-building efforts are likely to face a number of common challenges. Partner agencies may have different aims and mandates, values and ideologies, decision-making structures and ways of working, programming timetables, capacities, skills and funding streams, as well as facing different pressures from their donors. They may also have different perspectives on the problems to be addressed and how to resolve them; even if they use the same core concepts and terminology, they may understand or interpret them differently.

Such issues should be identified and discussed at the outset, when the partnership is being developed. Potential problems should be resolved then, as it is much harder to deal with them when initiatives are under way. Assessment of needs and opportunities could be carried out by an organisation as part of its project planning, through an initial mapping or scoping exercise to identify which aspects of DRR other agencies are currently addressing in that district. This may be particularly helpful in multi-stakeholder settings, by indicating gaps in agencies’ collective coverage and highlighting the potential for new or stronger collaboration on specific issues. Roles and responsibilities may have to be altered during a partnership to respond to needs or opportunities as they are identified.

Finally, it is important to remember that power – the ability to control or influence other people’s behaviour and actions – is a component in all relationships between different organisations or groups. This influence can come from possessing formal authority, socio-economic status, education, social capital, specialist knowledge and expertise and money or other material resources. Power imbalances are often found in, for example, partnerships between governments and civil society organisations, international and national or local NGOs, donor agencies and recipient organisations or groups, and technical specialists and the public. Power and influence issues should be identified and acknowledged openly, and clear and effective accountability mechanisms should be put in place to address imbalances.


Box 4.1 Key factors for success in partnerships

The Emergency Capacity Building Project was a global initiative led by six international agencies working through country-level consortia in Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia, Niger and the Horn of Africa. Its aim was to improve the speed, quality and effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response by building capacity at different levels. In reviewing how to make country consortia and other forms of collaboration work effectively, the project identified ten key factors for success:

  1. Defining common aims and objective
  2. Ensuring effective leadership
  3. Ensuring alignment between partners (e.g. of aims, operating procedures)
  4. Demonstrating visible support and reliable commitment
  5. Prioritising staff time to facilitate and support the process
  6. Ensuring transparent, effective communication
  7. Clarifying roles and responsibilities
  8. Funding the process
  9. Finding common approaches
  10. Managing problems within the consortium
Emergency Capacity Building Project, What We Know About Collaboration: The ECB Country Consortium Experience,