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5. Strategy

Programming is about shaping CARE’s response to an emergency to ensure the greatest beneficial impact on humanitarian needs. Programming decisions should be based on a clear strategy that takes account of priority unmet needs, local capacities and resources-and CARE’s capacities (both existing and that which can be brought in) and potential ‘value added’-within the overall humanitarian response. This is essential to ensure that CARE’s response meets quality standards, avoids the negative impacts that can result from poor programming, and is not simply an ad hoc and reactive response to the situation.

In addition to a well-thought through programme strategy, good programming requires technical capacity and expertise, sound programme management, and sufficient operational support. Advice on technical standards is available in the various sector guidelines, and in the chapters on quality- related topics.

1.1 CI roles and responsibilities for programming in an emergency

1.2 Role of programme coordinator (ACD programme, emergency coordinator)


  • Be aware that programming in an emergency is made challenging by a rapidly changing context, and that putting in place a programme strategy as soon as possible can help the CO to adapt strategically to the challenges of the emergency.
  • Identify CARE’s niche role and added value in the emergency response based on the analysis of priority humanitarian needs, the response of others and CARE’s capacity to address those needs.
  • Rapidly prepare, document and communicate the CARE strategy to respond to the emergency.
  • Recognise that the strategy should be revised over time-develop a basic first draft as soon as possible, and update as more information and planning is available.
  • Analyse the humanitarian situation, the response of other actors and CARE’s capacities.
  • Analyse the potential scenarios that may develop as the situation changes.
  • Identify the unique issues facing the emergency, and ensure policies, approaches and procedures are adapted to the specific context of the emergency.
  • Align CARE’s emergency response strategy with CARE’s programming principles, and common international humanitarian principles and standards.
  • Establish a strategy that outlines clear goals, objectives and key interventions.
  • Consider how CARE’s programming will address critical policy issues, cross-cutting issues and programming approaches.
  • Determine the likely phases of the response, and define how CARE’s programming will adapt to different phases and needs (for example, relief, rehabilitation, reconstruction).
  • Identify the geographic focus area of CARE’s programme based on the impact of the disaster, levels of need, vulnerability, coordination with other actors and location of CARE’s capacities.
  • Develop clear targeting strategies based on analysis of need.
  • Address the needs of vulnerable groups.
  • Identify which partnerships and coordination mechanisms are important to achieve CARE’s programme strategy.
  • Start thinking about appropriate exit and transition strategies as early as possible.
  • Analyse and manage risks to CARE’s programme.
  • Put in place programme-level monitoring and evaluation systems to track CARE’s progress against the overall strategy.
  • Clearly outline the resources needed to implement the strategy and how to mobilise these.
  • Develop operational plans to scale-up support appropriate to achieve the strategy goals.
  • Ensure that project designs conform to CARE’s project standards and good design principles.

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.

3.1 Stages in an emergency response

3.2 Checklist for good programming in emergencies

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.

4.1 What a programme strategy is

4.2 Why programme strategy is important

4.3 Developing the strategy

4.3.1 Strategy development key questions

4.4 The strategy document

4.5 Communicating the strategy

The first step in developing the strategy is to conduct a rapid analysis of the situation. This analysis should be documented in the introduction to the strategy and informed by CARE’s assessment process. For detailed guidelines on conducting assessments, refer to Chapter 4 Assessment. This analysis will help identify CARE’s niche (as for section 4.3).

5.1 Brief strategy analysis checklist

At least three potential scenarios that could develop should be analysed to ensure that CARE’s programme strategy can be adapted to changes of context. The scenarios should be based on ‘best case’, ‘medium’ (usually ‘most likely’) and ‘worst case’ scenarios. When developing the scenarios consider the following questions:

  • What are the likely triggers for change in the situation?
  • What are the environmental conditions affecting the response? In the case of a natural disaster, is there potential for another disaster event (for example, a secondary cyclone or earthquake) or for conditions to worsen (such as continued rains)?
  • Is there potential for the conflict to develop or to escalate? What would be the impacts of an escalating conflict on the population? What would be the impacts on relief efforts?
  • What are the possible political reactions? How will these affect relief efforts?
  • What are the likely response scenarios-what would happen if there is not enough aid committed, or alternatively too much?
  • What are the views towards international aid agencies among the general population, government authorities and political groups?

Each situation is unique. While policies and guidelines for CARE’s response exist, they must be interpreted and adapted in the specific context of each emergency. Critical issues in the emergency or operational context must be identified and analysed to determine the implications for response programmes and operations, and used to inform the decisions made about CARE’s strategy. Consider the following questions:

  • What is unique about the operating context?
  • What particular government policies or regulations exist that may affect the response of international NGOs? Are there particular obstacles to the involvement of international NGOs in the response?
  • What are the particular sensitivities and risks that CARE needs to be aware of?
  • What are the particular cultural considerations in the country that will affect programming decisions?

CARE’s strategy must be aligned with CARE’s principles. This includes CARE’s own programming principles as well as the common humanitarian principles to which CARE is committed (see Chapter 2 Humanitarian policy framework, and Chapter 32 Quality and accountability).

When developing the emergency programme strategy, consider how these principles need to be applied in the specific context of the emergency and CARE’s response to it. The questions in sections 8.1 and 8.2 can help. It is useful to highlight the key issues and principles that underpin CARE’s approach to the emergency in the strategy document.

8.1 CARE’s programming principles

8.2 Common international principles and standards

9.1 Goal and objectives

9.1.1 Case study: Example goals and objectives

9.2 Key interventions

9.2.1 Selecting interventions to support

9.3 Policy issues, cross-cutting issues and programming approaches

CARE’s programme strategy should be designed to address the specific needs and contexts of the different phases of an emergency. Each emergency is different and progresses at different rates. Although ideally communities who have been affected by a crisis will be able to recover quickly and move to rehabilitation and reconstruction, this is often not the case. In particular, in complex emergencies, the crisis may not progress sequentially through the main phases of an emergency, but will move back and forth between different phases as the crisis changes.

The emergency response strategy should include an analysis of the likely phases of the emergency, considering different possible scenarios and identifying likely durations of each phase. Key interventions and funding targets can then be aligned with each phase (see Chapter 7 on Funds mobilisation).

10.1 Phases of a disaster

Targeting refers to the mechanisms that relief agencies use to ensure their assistance reaches the people who are in greatest need. A targeting strategy aims to concentrate the available set of resources (for example, food, skills, cash) where aid can have the greatest impact on meeting the needs of the affected men, women, boys & girls. Government and/or aid donors may try to dictate targeting according to their priorities, which may not correspond to the realities of the situation. In such circumstances, humanitarian agencies must advocate for fair targeting based on humanitarian principles and assessment of need.

CARE’s programme strategy and project designs should clearly identify CARE’s target groups. The selection of target groups for CARE’s assistance should be defined on the basis of need, taking care to ensure that CARE’s targeting strategy is consistent with programming principles and our commitment to gender equality in emergencies.

11.1 Geographic focus

11.2 Target groups and targeting strategies

11.3 Vulnerable groups

11.4 Attending to the special needs of vulnerable groups

CARE’s programming strategy should consider what strategic partnerships CARE will pursue in implementing the response. Partnerships for the response may take different forms, including direct sub-contracting, joint implementation, coordination and coalition building.

Knowing how to end an emergency response can be as important as knowing when to begin one. When and how CARE should end emergency operations depends on a range of factors and can take various forms, including phasing-out (withdrawing) CARE‘s assistance or shifting to longer-term programmes. The strongest exit strategies for CARE emergency operations look beyond providing immediate, life-saving relief services, and develop the capacity of recipient populations and governments to deal with future crises.

An exit strategy is a plan for withdrawing CARE’s emergency resources while ensuring that the goals of the emergency response are not jeopardised. CARE can achieve better outcomes for affected populations when an exit is strategically planned with partners. Expectations should be managed by informing government, local authorities and the community about the extent of CARE’s commitment. This allows better decisions to be made about how to employ local resources, so differing expectations can be avoided.

Key factors to consider when planning an exit include:

  • nature of the emergency
  • vulnerability of the population
  • types of assets depleted
  • regional context
  • access to partners.

Exit strategies should include possible indicators for exit, monitoring systems for measuring progress towards exit conditions, and identification of capacities to be built and left behind when CARE emergency assistance ends.

The WFP Emergency field operations pocketbook states that exit strategies should contain:

  • criteria for exit
  • measurable benchmarks to assess progress towards meeting the criteria
  • steps to reach the benchmarks, including identifying the staff responsible for taking these steps
  • periodic measures for assessing progress towards the criteria and possible modifications based on analysis of potential risks
  • a flexible timeline specifying when these benchmarks will be reached and when the assessments will be conducted.

For more information exit strategies refer to Annex 5.8 What we know about exit strategies: Practical guidance for developing exit strategies in the field.

CARE’s programming strategy should consider key risks facing the response and ways to mitigate those risks.

See Annex 5.9 Sample risk analysis matrix.

Programme monitoring and evaluation is the key to ensure that CARE’s programmes remain relevant and to understand the impact they are having. Detailed practical guidance on monitoring and evaluation are provided in Chapter 9 Monitoring and evaluation.


The programme strategy must identify the level of resources required to implement the strategy, and establish a budget and fundraising target (see Chapter 7 Funds mobilisation).


A programme strategy will only have good outcomes if it is also translated into appropriate operational plans and management decisions as quickly as possible. See the chapter on Operational Planning.

Darcy, James & Hoffman, Charles-Antoine 2003. Humanitarian needs assessment and decision-making. HPG briefing no.13. London. Overseas Development Institute

IOM 2002. Emergency operations manual. International Organization for Migration

Jaspars, S & Shoham, J 1999. Targeting the vulnerable: A review of the necessity and feasibility of targeting vulnerable households. Disasters 23(4): 359-372.

Sharp, K 2001. An overview of targeting approaches for food-assisted programming. Atlanta. CARE USA.

Taylor, A & Seaman, J 2004. Targeting food aid in emergencies. Save the Children UK, Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN), No. 1, July

UNHCR 1999. Protecting refugees: A field guide for NGOs. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR 2007. Handbook for emergencies. 3rd ed. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNICEF 2005. Emergency field handbook: A guide for UNICEF staff.

WFP 2002. Emergency field operations pocketbook. World Food Programme.