Crisis anticipation – what are we aiming for in 2015?

January 27, 2015

Posted by in Blog.

Crisis anticipation – what are we aiming for in 2015?

The Start Network likes to set itself fairly ambitious goals. As a member of the core team we seem to be held to the same standards, so I feel excited but also daunted at the challenges that lie ahead this year.

As outlined in previous blogs, I work with Start Network agencies, and a wider group of DFID Rapid Response Facility (RRF) NGOs, on crisis anticipation. What we mean by anticipation is enabling agencies to shift away from a reactive business model where crisis response only happens after a situation has already escalated and hit the media headlines. We are looking to challenge the traditional model of waiting for something bad to happen before then raising funds and setting up projects, which translates into delays that can cause much suffering and loss of life.

But what is the alternative? It’s a humanitarian system which can identify early-on when a situation is likely to deteriorate, and carry-out the actions needed to prevent it from developing into a full-blown crisis. This is pro-active rather than re-active response. Under this alternative model, the focus is on managing risk and responding to changes in risk in a timely way, rather than responding to events after they have already escalated.



What are we going to do to become more anticipatory?

The investments needed in Anticipation can be grouped into three main areas;

Firstly we need to be aware of changing risk signals, what is often called early warning information. This means investing in mapping, monitoring and analysing risk to produce credible forecasts in a format in which decision-makers can actually use.

Secondly, we need new funding mechanisms that can provide flexible, impartial and early injections of money for preventative actions, and can do this on the basis of risk information / forecasts.

Thirdly, where we have information and funds, we need to ensure that the capacity is in place to use these to launch the right kinds of preventative actions at the right scale to successfully avert a crisis.

Finally, underpinning all of this, we are developing our culture of risk management that allows us to be comfortable talking in ‘likelihoods’ and ‘probabilities’ when making decisions, rather than absolute needs.

Changing the way in which we do business as a sector is hugely difficult, particularly when it is being done by the incumbents of that system, so it is unlikely to happen overnight…

What’s the plan for 2015?

During the initial scoping of anticipation carried out last year (reported here) one of the best pieces of advice I received was to start with the decisions within the Network’s control and work backwards. This is a way of avoiding the familiar disconnect between availability of early warning information and this not being converted into early action.

With this in mind, I’m listing three of the key objectives for 2015 in the area of anticipation:

1.       Equip the Start Fund Allocations Committee with the information needed to try more anticipatory allocations

The Start Network is in the exciting position of having our own pooled fund with a mandate to disburse funding fast and early to humanitarian crises. Donor barriers or lack of interest are the most frequently cited reasons for the inability of NGOs to respond in a more anticipatory way. We therefore have a unique opportunity to model a more anticipatory type of donorship.

In 2015 I will be working on equipping the Start Fund Allocations Committee (made up of twelve Humanitarian Directors who decide where and when to allocate funds) with more accurate early warning information and forecasts in order to make anticipatory allocations. This will be sourced by building an internal network within our agencies, many of whom have early warning projects producing valuable information that could be leveraged, particularly in the area of food security or conflict analysis. In addition, partnerships to access new external risk information which our agencies do not currently have access to will be explored. Once available, we hope that this information will be used more widely than the Start Fund (and could also be applied to the RRF).

2.       Design and pilot new financial mechanisms for anticipatory response that build on and compliment the successes of the Start Fund

The range of gaps in the humanitarian funding architecture requires a diverse menu of predictable, impartial, rapid funding in response to risk signals of an emerging crisis. The Start Fund has been a big step forward in speeding up the availability of funds for frontline responders, but cannot respond at sufficient scale to every type of crisis. Additional mechanisms are required for more infrequent, larger scale crisis.

In 2015 we will complete the scoping of a prototype Parametric Insurance product with funding from the Humanitarian Innovation Fund. The intention is to design a drought insurance product which will provide automatic payouts in response to risk triggers of major food crises, which will enable early response by the Network and their civil society partners.

We will also be working on several other opportunities including a loan facility and Catastrophe Bonds (follow this blog to receive updates on these as they progress!).

3.       Support and leverage investments in preparedness systems that enable early response

Finally, in 2015 the Start Network will also be starting activity on an exciting portfolio of capacity building projects, funded by a £26million commitment from the DFID Disaster and Emergencies Preparedness Programme (DEPP). A subsection of these funds will be allocated to improving preparedness systems for early action with communities at risk of disasters.

These DEPP funds present an opportunity for us to develop our anticipatory capacity at the field level. The preparedness systems projects will be designed and delivered by the network members in partnership with National Disaster Management Agencies, Red Cross / Red Crescent and other civil society responders. A key challenge from the Start Team perspective will be to explore the interoperability of these locally-lead initiatives with the other activities mentioned above, in order to leverage these projects to bring about wider changes towards an anticipatory model of action across the network.

So 2015 looks set to be a busy year! We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress against these goals.

Are you working in a Start Network agency on early warning information, new financing models or preparedness systems projects?

Are you an external organization producing risk information, models or forecasts that could be of use to our network?

Or are you just a fan of experimenting with new ways of working?

…If so please get in touch –


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