Many development and humanitarian practitioners have considerable experience of working with vulnerable people to protect them against hazards and help them recover from disasters. Often, this experience is neither documented nor shared, usually because project staff are too busy and the institutions they work for do not give sufficient priority to organisational learning. Staff are often unaware of similar work in other organisations, or even in other parts of their own organisation.
Better networking – in the broadest sense of the term – is therefore essential. It improves access to, and exchange of, information and expertise, and can help network members to maximise their impact through the synergy that comes from partnerships and greater cooperation. The proliferation of development and emergency networks in recent years, especially at national and international levels, indicates that agencies have recognised the value of better networking. The Humanitarian Practice Network is one successful example of this: it now has almost 9,000 members from around the world, and there were 250,000 visits to its website last year.
A number of significant DRR networking initiatives have been established at global, regional, national and sub-national levels, typically involving academics, technical specialists and other practitioners for research, publication, training, the promotion of good practice and advocacy. The lack of effective inter-disciplinary networking remains a major stumbling block but is slowly being addressed. The UNISDR has promoted the establishment of formal national platforms around the world, with the aim of involving different stakeholder groups in disaster policy-making, improving practice and integrating DRR into development.+See http://www.unisdr.org/we/coordinate/national-platforms. Local-level networks tend to focus on particular risk reduction initiatives, such as early warning or watershed management.
Established in 2007, the Global Network of Civil Society Organisations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR) has more than 450 members from civil society organisations, including national and international NGOs, community-based organisations and academic and research institutions. Activities undertaken by the network and its members include sharing information (through meetings, online discussions and field visits), taking part in national and global DRR platforms and other conferences and events, organising meetings and engaging with other networks. Every two years GNDR publishes a major survey, Views from the Frontline, on progress in implementing DRR at local level and challenges to achieving resilience. This presents the views of communities, civil society organisations and local authorities in areas most affected by disasters: the 2013 edition collected evidence from more than 21,500 local respondents in 57 countries.
The Disaster Risk Reduction Network Philippines (DRRNetPhils) is a nationwide grouping of over 300 civil society organisations, communities and practitioners. It was established in 2008 to advocate for improvements to disaster management legislation then under discussion in parliament. Thanks to the influence of the network the 2010 Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act put greater emphasis on community resilience, strengthening local DRR capacities and tackling the root causes of vulnerability, in line with the aims of the Hyogo Framework for Action and internationally accepted good practice. DRRNetPhils has also published guidance on the contents of the 2010 act and how to apply it.
See: http://www.dap.edu.ph/cshd/drrnetphils/index.htm; E. Agsaoay-Sano, Primer on the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010 (Quezon City: DRRNetPhils, 2011), http://drrknowledge.net/primer-on-the-disaster-risk-reduction-and-management-drrm-act-of-2010.
There are many types of network and many practical challenges to networking. Common problems faced by networks include a lack of clear objectives, disparate membership, domination by particular organisations or interest groups, excessive centralisation of network administration and communications, lack of critical debate about achievements, competition between participants, lack of resources (and in some cases donor interference) and the difficulty of monitoring and evaluating impact.+P. Starkey, Networking for Development (London: International Forum for Rural Transport and Development, 1997).
Disparity of membership is perhaps the most important problem in disaster reduction networking. Creating a forum at which all the different viewpoints can be adequately represented has proved beyond the capacity of some networks, and others have struggled because of the perceived dominance of particular interest groups. It is easier to form a network around specific academic or practical disciplines (e.g. social scientists, nutritionists) or themes (e.g. arsenic in Bangladesh), but this should not be at the expense of multi-disciplinary networking, to which everyone should be encouraged to devote some of their time.