4. Developing a programme strategy

A programme strategy must be developed as soon as possible. This will help inform and guide the overall emergency response in a strategic way from the outset. In a rapid onset emergency, an outline strategy that identifies (likely or planned) locations for work, sectors of intervention, funding target and target of people to be reached should be developed in 48-72 hours.

A programme strategy is a coherent set of programme activities designed to achieve a specified goal or set of objectives. The programme strategy establishes the parameters of CARE’s entire operation in a given emergency context, and ensures that CARE’s emergency programmes are ‘strategic’ and based on the specific context being faced. The strategy should be based on an analysis of CARE’s ‘value added’ in terms of CARE’s contribution to addressing the humanitarian needs. It should also provide a clear analytical basis for deciding what to do and what not to do.

A programme strategy is important because it:

  • recognises that CARE will not be able to do everything that is required to address all humanitarian needs in a particular place. Choices must be made to ensure that CARE’s efforts are concentrated and targeted. This helps us be as effective as possible. CARE’s efforts should also complement the efforts of the national government and other relief organisations
  • ensures that CARE’s response is contextualised and adapted to the specific conditions of the emergency. Every context is unique. Responses must be designed to meet the needs and challenges posed by the particular emergency situation
  • outlines the overall framework for CARE’s response, which allows operational plans to be developed that are adequate to support the desired scale and nature of response. The programme strategy helps drive the appropriate scale-up of all other operations. For example, it allows logistics, human resources and other support functions to plan for a scale-up commensurate with the goals outlined in the strategy
  • prevents ad hoc and reactive responses that are not based on sound analysis, thus helping to avoid a poorly coordinated programme
  • allows the analysis of scenarios to help guide strategic decision-making about CARE’s operations as the context changes
  • helps think through the implications of the emergency response to CARE’s already existing projects and programmes in the country, and how to adjust them accordingly
  • helps communicate CARE’s intentions and activities to a wide range of stakeholders, both internal and external. In particular, it defines CARE’s role within a humanitarian response to fill critical gaps, while at the same time informing other key stakeholders where we believe CARE’s capacity lies
  • provides a framework for fundraising and proposals, to ensure that funds raised can support priority activities and needs, and to help avoid funding being accepted for inappropriate activities.

To manage the process of developing the strategy:

  • develop the strategy as quickly as possible, on the basis of initial rapid assessment data and contextual analysis
  • remember that assessments and strategy revision are iterative processes, which will be repeated at later stages of the response
  • consult the EPP for draft inputs for the strategy and adapt to the actual situation in the strategy development process
  • focus on what CARE would like to achieve in the future with clear goals, objectives and links to the CO’s existing long-range strategic plan
  • ensure the broader emergency response team is engaged in providing inputs and endorsing the strategy, including the assessment team, operational support units, Country Director, emergency team leader, and under the leadership of the ACD programme or Emergency Coordinator.

CARE’s strategy should be driven by the humanitarian imperative and based on need. Recognising that CARE will not be able to meet every need, deciding what CARE will do should be determined by analysing the following three factors and identifying the niche where all three factors align:

  • priority humanitarian needs
  • what others are doing-for example, donors, NGOs and government-and what gaps remain
  • CARE’s expertise and capacity to assist.

In addition to outlining what CARE will do, the strategy should also outline how CARE will approach important cross-cutting issues, key risk factors and other elements unique to the context of the specific emergency.

4.3.1 Strategy development key questions

  • What period of time will the strategy cover?
  • What is CARE’s potential role and ‘value added’ within the overall response?
  • What are the short-term and long-term goals of the CARE response actions?
  • How will these goals be achieved?
  • What resources are required (funding, human resources) to accomplish these goals?
  • Does CARE have a presence in the affected geographical area? If yes, what type of programming is currently being implemented?
  • How will CARE switch from the current programming to the emergency response activities?
  • What type of actions would it require?
  • Is CARE going to carry out the activities directly or with partners? Who are the partners?
  • If CARE does not currently have presence in the area, what actions would be required to start the response operations?
  • What potential harm can be done through these activities?
  • How will compliance with CARE’s Humanitarian Accountability Framework (including meeting internationally recognised minimum standards) be ensured?
  • How will CARE communicate the strategy to the target population?
  • How is CARE planning to phase out from the response actions at the end of the emergency?

If CARE’s objective is to provide long-term assistance to the affected population, what type of programmes will CARE implement upon completing the immediate relief operation?

The strategy document itself is an evolving document that will likely be revised several times during the response based on the changing situation, and the increasing availability of information and analysis.

CARE’s emergency strategy format (Annex 7.1) should be used for the strategy throughout the emergency, though the amount of detail written into the strategy may change over time, as below.

Time frame Level of detail Length
Within 48 hours of emergency


Version 1
(also referred to as the Appeal document)

  • initial assessment data including the response of other actors
  • CARE’s decision to respond
  • locations of response
  • potential sectors of intervention and first response activities
  • funding target
  • target of people to be reached
  • time frame typically covers 90 days.
2 pages
Within one week Version 2

  • more detailed assessment data
  • analysis of potential scenarios
  • CARE’s goals, objectives and indicators
  • key sectors, activities, target areas and groups for the relief phase
  • CARE’s approach to key cross-cutting programming, risks and critical issues
  • potential interventions in later phases, including exit or transition
  • budget and resources required
  • time frame typically covers 6-12 months.
5 pages
Within one month Version 3

As for the version 2 strategy, plus:

  • updated, more detailed assessment and analysis
  • specific details of CARE’s emergency relief phase programmes
  • concrete strategies to address key cross-cutting issues and programming approaches
  • clear phasing of activities
  • planned goals, objectives and activities for later phases (rehabilitation and reconstruction), including exit or transition
  • accompanied by detailed operational plan
  • time frame typically covers 1 to 3 years.
5-10 pages plus annexes

The strategy should first be sent the Head of Emergency Program Quality who will review the strategy with the CO and then facilitate broader distribution to CARE international distribution lists such as ERWG and COMWG (refer to  Information management). Communicating the strategy to internal stakeholders helps to ensure that CARE International’s resources are mobilised in a coordinated way to support priorities defined by the CO.

The CO should also share the strategy with key external stakeholders, including donors, the host government, CARE’s partners and peer NGOs. Communicating the strategy to external stakeholders helps to ensure that CARE informs other actors of where we believe our capacities lie, what humanitarian needs CARE will address and what gaps in the overall response we can fill. This promotes better interagency coordination of activities, helps donors know what activities require support and helps negotiate our role with host authorities. If sensitive issues are included in the strategy analysis, a different version may sometimes need to be prepared for external audiences. The Country Director or team leader should determine which external stakeholders the strategy will be sent to (refer also to Information management).