Agencies are coming together to help communities prepare for disasters like this 2008 flood Agencies are coming together to help communities prepare for disasters like this 2008 flood Photo credit: Andres Vera
Developing interagency DRR tools at field level: World Vision’s experience in Bolivia
by Julian Srodecki, World Vision International September 2011

During 2010, a group of humanitarian agencies in Bolivia came together to work on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). Over the past year, these agencies have shared learning, built a common DRR/climate change approach and developed RAPP, a consolidated Capacity and Vulnerability Analysis (CVA) tool. Having a locally developed common approach to DRR and interagency tools provides a practical way for agencies to work together with communities on huge climate issues that are too big for any one organisation to tackle alone. Funding has also been received from ECHO to enable three agencies (Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision) to collaborate on an 18-month programme under the global Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Project.+The Emergency Capacity Building Project is a global partnership between CARE, CRS, Oxfam, Mercy Corps and World Vision. For more see http://www.ecbproject.org. Oxfam is the lead agency for ECB in Bolivia, with World Vision Bolivia leading on DRR activities. Through this field-level collaboration a number of interesting lessons are emerging.

A common approach to DRR at field level

Successful collaboration focuses on issues that all the partnering agencies agree are important and where joint activity is more likely to yield tangible improvements. Climate change poses an increasingly dangerous threat to impoverished, minority and vulnerable populations in Bolivia. DRR was a good topic to choose for collaborative working because all agencies need to work together to tackle this big and complex issue.

he-51-box-BoliviaWorld Vision, as lead of the DRR working group of the ECB Bolivia consortium, is working closely with other agencies+During 2010 six agencies were working together on DRR, but in 2011 the number has grown and now includes ACF, CARE, CRS, HelpAge International, Oxfam, Plan, Save the Children and World Vision. to pool expertise and facilitate the joint development of a common approach to DRR. This approach is building a shared language and terminology adapted for the Bolivian context. Common DRR competencies have also been agreed, building on the experience and expertise of each agency (see Box 1). These agreed competencies have enabled staff from different agencies to strengthen local understanding and build a body of knowledge that fits well with local culture, conditions and approaches. They have been the foundation for the development of a shared Risk Analysis and Participatory Planning tool (RAPP) that combines the capacity, vulnerability and analysis tools used by CARE, Oxfam and World Vision globally. The development process has helped to generate greater staff understanding and acceptance, and has ensured that the tool is tailored to local conditions.

Agencies active in various parts of the country are now able to use a common approach when working with communities, local partners and the government to identify issues around risks and vulnerability. This is enabling agencies to compare their results, pool expertise and communicate in a more coherent way with all stakeholders. Being able to talk the same technical language facilitates joint work with the government on initiatives to reduce or mitigate the impact of natural disasters such as forest fires, droughts, frosts and flooding, all of which are becoming more frequent and intense. Individual agencies may have different geographical areas of operation, but often the causes of both risks and disasters require approaches that cut across multiple areas or agency mandates.

Sharing information and expertise to tackle DRR

The 18-month ECHO-funded programme is an opportunity to test the value of this collaborative effort. The RAPP tool was used to gather and pool information for the proposal, and each of the three participating agencies brings its own particular areas of strength. Plan International is providing expertise in community capacity-building and local responses to fighting forest fires, Save the Children is sharing community and schools-based early-warning systems and World Vision is contributing experience of community capacity-building in DRR. Although it is early days there are already indications that the approach is bearing fruit. According to Nancy Guiterrez, World Vision Bolivia Humanitarian and Emergency Affairs Manager: ‘We are on an exciting journey with our partners and World Vision deeply values the levels of trust and understanding that we are building up with our colleagues on DRR. It can only be to everyone’s benefit if we work closely together with shared tools and talk with the same language’. In future, WV Bolivia plans to work with other agencies in the consortium to advocate with the National Civil Defence Agency (VIDECI) to share experience and collaborative tools such as RAPP nationwide. A common approach will make it easier for communities and government counterparts to work with each of the agencies on the climate change issues that they face.

Building on local relationships

The development of a common DRR tool in Bolivia was based on good interagency relationships at the national level. Over the last five years of implementing collaborative projects in several countries, ECB has learnt that local relationships are essential to making collaboration work at a national level. ECB has supported the development of national-level relationships through the creation of field consortia in five countries and regions.+The five countries/regions are Bangladesh, Bolivia, Indonesia, Niger and the Horn of Africa. These bring together interested agencies in a multi-year process to strengthen collaborative relationships and jointly build disaster management capacity. Each consortium is led by a global ECB agency, with additional local partners participating in joint activities at national level. The ECB project supports each consortia with a planning process, some activity funding and the provision of technical advisors and facilitators to support the implementation of joint activities. In Bolivia, the ECB project consortium is led by Oxfam and brings together eight other NGO members from the ECB and the Consortium of British Humanitarian Agencies (ACH, CARE, Christian Aid, CRS, HelpAge, Plan International, Save the Children and World Vision). These partners also work closely with governments and other organizations, such as UNICEF, OCHA, Fundacion para el desarrollo participativo y comunitario (FUNDEPCO), CIPCA, CARITAS, PROCOSI and the Bolivian Vice Minister for Civil Defence (VIDECI). World Vision Bolivia is the lead agency for the Disaster Risk Reduction/Climate Change Adaptation (DRR/CCA) working group of the consortium. Other agencies lead working groups and activities around national staff capacity-building and accountability.

The importance of a well-managed process

In only a few months, the consortium in Bolivia moved through several stages of collaboration, from sharing information and learning to developing new tools and approaches. Good relations between the partners was a key enabling factor, whilst the ECB project supported the process with funding for a consultant and by providing technical specialists. These worked with the consortium over a period of several months on developing a shared DRR/CCA approach. The technical support for the RAPP tool provided by the ECB agencies’ global DRR/CCA in-house advisors was also important. This involved global headquarters staff from two agencies providing technical expertise and advice on the ground. At the end of this process funding was secured from ECHO.

Collaborative working can be very time-consuming. The consultant’s role was to lead the process and complete the development of the shared DRR approach outside of interagency meetings. The consortium benefited from a well-run process which drew on each agency’s perspectives but did not require overwhelming time commitments. During 2010 three workshops were held to build understanding and collaboration between the agencies involved. It was important that the process was shaped by all the participants, built on everyone’s experience and reflected the gradual growth of confidence and trust between agencies. During the first meeting agencies worked together to agree the parameters for case studies and start drafting common DRR competencies. In between meetings the consultant interviewed key stakeholders and drafted the competencies based on emerging themes. A few months later agency case studies and the final draft competencies were reviewed in depth in a second five-day workshop. This culminated in the development of a shared DRR approach and common agency competencies. ECB project funding for a consultant and the support of two of the agencies’ global DRR/CCA Advisors ensured that the process was well run, momentum was maintained and joint products were being developed between meetings. Finally, the third five-day workshop in October 2010 was used to start the consolidation of individual agency CVA tools into the common RAPP tool.

When agencies talk about coming together to work on joint tools, the discussion often happens between agency heads in a national capital, miles from the field. During the third workshop, the Bolivia Consortium decided to do something different. Key staff from each agency spent two days in the field using each others’ tools in work with communities. This helped to broaden their understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of each approach. It also provided a common team-building experience that strengthened the relationships that are vital to collaboration. After the field work, the final parts of the workshop focused on debriefs and action planning around the process to finalise a common tool. This drew on the most appropriate parts of CARE’s Climate Vulnerability Capacity Assessment, Oxfam’s Participatory Capacity and Vulnerability Analysis (PCVA) and World Vision’s Community Owned Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (COVACA) tool.

Should there be greater investment in collaborative approaches at field level?

The development of common DRR tools in Bolivia is in its early days, and it will be interesting to see how the process develops in the coming months and years. Could it be that large agencies such as World Vision may sometimes need to reconsider how they develop tools and approaches? Rather than having globally developed tools and prescriptive approaches, should agencies provide broader guidance for field entities and give them the freedom to develop tools and approaches that facilitate greater interagency working at field level? Such an approach could enable agencies to develop a common language for joint working, make coordination and advocacy with local government more effective and enable common approaches to local-level capacity-building. This may well require greater investment in field-office capacity and higher levels of trust for field staff to make key decisions around technical issues. It might also require experts at headquarters or regional levels to take a less prescriptive approach to the development and application of tools and play more of a coaching role, supporting field staff to work with their peers to do what is most appropriate locally. The answers to these questions may not be clear at the moment, but initiatives like the development of the joint DRR approach in Bolivia and others across the ECB project’s four other consortia may generate some interesting perspectives as they mature and bear fruit.

Julian Srodecki is Humanitarian Advisor – Initiatives, World Vision International. The views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or official position of World Vision or the other participating agencies. For more on ECB’s work in Bolivia, visit http://www.ecbproject.org/Bolivia. The content for this article is taken from a series of World Vision discussion papers, which can be found at www.ecbproject.org/WVadventuresinpartnering.

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