3. The nature of programming in emergencies

Programming is challenging in an emergency because:

  • decisions must be made quickly
  • there is little time for in-depth analysis or consultations with disaster-affected communities and other stakeholders
  • there is often a lack of information and baseline data
  • there is insufficient monitoring and evaluation capacities to inform decision-making
  • the situation is unpredictable and changes rapidly (particularly during the initial phase)
  • the context is often high-risk, and poor programming decisions can have negative effects on beneficiaries and on CARE’s operations overall.

In non-emergency times, a programme management cycle typically follows a sequence of assessment and analysis, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, and back again to assessment and analysis. In an emergency context, the reality is that all of these steps are happening at the same time and being repeated many times throughout the emergency response.

Assessment and design (for detailed assessment guidelines see Assessment)

  • A needs assessment is an information gathering exercise to determine the most urgent needs of an affected population as well as the resources required to meet those needs. Needs assessment usually starts with a rapid assessment, which is then followed by a more detailed assessment later on in the response.
  • The design stage is where the details of a project are worked out, based on the assessment results, including what to do, where to do it, and the resources and costs required to implement the project.

Implementation, monitoring and adaptation (see Monitoring and evaluation)

  • Emergency activities are implemented as soon as possible. Implementation of first response activities should take place at the same time as initial assessments.
  • Because the context changes relatively quickly, monitoring should be continuous and time should be allocated to regularly review results in real time. This allows activities to be adapted or modified to take account of the changing needs of the affected population and changes in the operational conditions (for example, political or security situation).

Evaluation and learning

  • An in-depth, systematic, objective review of actions is undertaken.
  • Results of evaluative activities feed into organisational learning, including the adaptation and modification of programmes, and design of new programmes. The results of an evaluation may also help to better inform exit or transition strategies.

Exit or transition

  • Transition is the stage when emergency programmes shift from short-term relief activities into longer-term rehabilitation and development programmes (or conversely, when programmes must transition from regular development mode into emergency mode).
  • Exit is when emergency resources are withdrawn, and emergency response operations close down or are handed over to local partners to continue.
  • Ensure consistency with CARE’s mission, vision and programming principles.
  • Have a design that is based on a clear understanding of the disaster risk, including a holistic analysis of hazards, capacities and vulnerabilities, as well as priority needs.
  • Wherever feasible, protect the rights and needs of the poorest in their communities and engage in appropriate risk reduction-related initiatives.
  • Review CARE’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework to understand what you and your team are accountable for, including adherence to applicable interagency standards and codes (namely Core Humanitarian Standard, Code of Conduct,  Sphere Minimum Standards in Disaster Response).
  • Ensure the active participation of project participants in the assessment, design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation processes. Ensure that emergency assistance is targeted and proportional to the unmet needs of the ‘most vulnerable’ or ‘at risk’ groups.
  • Don’t work in isolation – be informed by relevant governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental policy context, and be linked into relevant coordination mechanisms.
  • Take into account gender roles, based on a broad contextual understanding of cultural and environmental factors.
  • Clearly link a relief and recovery programme to a disaster risk reduction strategy to reduce people’s vulnerabilities to future hazards by strengthening local capacities.
  • Have a clear exit strategy that outlines how and when the project activities will be phased out and, where relevant, how the project impact can be sustained beyond the project implementation period

For more information, see chapter on Quality and accountability