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With opportunity comes responsibility

Ensuring communities and local actors are engaged in decision-making when acting in advance of a crisis

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The Disaster Risk Financing (DRF) systems being piloted by Start Network offer the opportunity for improved accountability to populations at risk because of their pre-arranged nature. A recent piece of research has explored what this means in practice, using experience from Start Networks DRF work in Senegal, Pakistan, Kenya and Madagascar. This is being shared with our members and the wider humanitarian community through a learning paper which delves into the opportunities and challenges this presents, and a short guide with some practical tips for ensuring accountability in DRF systems.

DRF offers exciting possibilities to scale early action, by tying together a model to pre­dict the likelihood of future crises, with early action plans and prepositioned financing. It opens the possibility for increased accountability as many decisions are made before a crisis hits.

DRF provides more time for deeper planning and engagement with key stakeholders. Thanks to that communities are more likely to have the time and space to participate in these discussions before rather than during a crisis. One of the outputs of the research were ten key steps to build Accountability to Affected Populations (AAP) into a DRF system. These ranged from aligning around community needs to transparent information sharing.

A key takeaway was the importance of clarity around the purpose of and approach to the engagement of different stakeholders, as these need to be carefully mapped before AAP can be built into the planning.

“It is important that the aims of community (and other stakeholder) engagement are understood by all involved. Selecting representative communities to improve the accuracy and effectiveness of the DRF System is differ­ent from working with communities to build buy-in and ownership.”

In addition to providing NGOs with some practical considerations in reflecting AAP in DRF systems, the research explores some of the opportunities and challenges these systems present for building AAP. DRF is new, innovative and is grounded in scientific modelling. Although these attributes mean that it may not be fully understood by all, its newness does provide an equitable opportunity for all actors – local and international - to engage and learn from the same starting point.

“With international, national and local humanitarian NGOs starting from a similar level of understanding around DRF systems, there is an opportunity to engage different NGOs equally to maintain this level playing field.”

To engage communities effectively, NGOs staff need to understand the technicalities of these models. This is where the greatest challenge (and opportunity) probably lies. Overcoming “technical language barriers” will be critical in ensuring that key stakeholders are able to interpret model outputs and understand the system. DRF provides a unique opportunity to have diverse stakeholders, scientists, modellers, different NGOs and Government departments working together. If the models are not communicated in a way where everyone can engage or if they are not open to adaptation through qualitative community feedback, there is a risk that modellers could have too much influence on decision-making. This risks the responsibility for AAP falling between the cracks. The scientific models used in a DRF system can improve the speed, objectivity, and transparency of decision-making, but placing too much power in the hands of the modellers could be detrimental.

The Start Network has integrated these findings into our DRF Building Blocks – the guidance developed to enable Start Network members to build their own DRF Systems. In the coming months, we will be rolling out training to disseminate this across the Start Network.

We do not have all the answers and there will not be a one size fits all solution, but this work provides an important starting point and can help prioritise areas for further exploration and piloting.


Read more about Anticipation and Risk Financing.

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Risk Financing

  • by Helen Guyatt