Early actions are at the heart of Forecast-based Financing and each Early Action Protocol. The ideal early action is one, which has the best chance of helping the population at risk to reduce the negative impacts of an extreme event.
The process of identifying impacts, prioritizing those that can and should be addressed by FbF, and identifying early actions that can prevent or mitigate these priority impacts, is therefore central to the development of a strong EAP.
Early actions play a dual role to fill critical gaps in contingency planning and funding, while building upon existing preparedness plans. Careful identification, prioritization and selection of EAs guarantees actions 1) contribute to, prevent, or reduce priority risks and prepare for effective response, 2) are adapted to the local context and feasible to implement in the lead time before the extreme event with the capacities and resources at hand and 3) align with the priorities of communities and local actors as well as with relevant preparedness plans.
Arielle Tozier de la Poterie explains how to identidy impacts and select early actions for an EAP, and talks about experiences made in Mozambique:
This chapter outlines a recursive process for identifying and selecting forecast-based actions that will be triggered and automatically funded based on forecast information.
The different steps below help to answer the following four key questions:
- What are the main impacts of that are caused by the hazard in question?
- Which harmful impacts can FbF reduce?
- What early actions will best reduce these impacts?
- Which of these early actions are currently feasible given the existing context and capacities?
Although the questions and steps below are presented sequentially, in practice, time and resources will be saved by gathering information on all four simultaneously, or iteratively (see Figure 1). Throughout the chapter, different methods are presented that can help understand impacts and how stakeholders experience and perceive the severity of these impacts, to elicit potential early actions. Depending upon the stage of your EAP, you may use each of these methods to zoom into one of these steps, or tackle several steps at once.
The steps, methods and criteria in this chapter were elaborated particularly to support the selection of early actions for EAPs to be submitted to the FbA by the DREF and thus correspond to the requirements of this mechanism. Of course, this guidance can also be used by NS that aim to develop more localized EAPs with own funding, in that case some of the below-described steps and methods could be adapted or weighed differently and some criteria mentioned might be less relevant.
Who is involved?
The selection of EAs should be done by a group of people with interdisciplinary backgrounds, from different sectors and with varied expertise. In some FbF projects, inter-institutional working groups (comprising RCRC, government authorities and other humanitarian organizations) have been set up to develop the EAP jointly and hence select the early actions, in others these tasks are in the hands of the Red Cross FbF team.
Regardless of the team composition, the steps below require the engagement of actors at all levels, from residents, community committees, civil society organizations, local and national governments and agencies, Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies, other humanitarian and development organizations, research institutions (including climate science community), and the private sector or other relevant actors, as appropriate. Red Cross and Red Crescent National Societies and other humanitarian and development organizations engaged in Forecast-based Financing are encouraged to use these steps in an iterative, flexible way to identify the impacts and actions to be included in their EAP.
Although FbF systems are aimed at covering extensive geographical areas, to ensure an EAP can be activated in those regions most likely to be impacted by hazards, it is important to conduct research for the selection of actions at the local level. As FbF, at least in the context of EAPs funded by FbA by the DREF, does not pre-define communities, and rather decides which communities will receive assistance upon activation, consultations with communities on past impacts, needs and risk factors would need to be carried out with sample communities. Despite this national level, flexible approach it is important to gather community-level data, as it can provide a sense of the type of impacts, risk factors and support needed that might apply to other communities in the larger exposed area. The following steps methods used in the selection of early action could be applied in urban and rural settings at various scales.
Step 1: Identify impacts and risk
As the goal of early actions in FbF is to prevent or reduce the humanitarian impact of extreme weather events, it is of crucial importance to understand the impact that the hazard in question causes, how and to whom.
Quantitative approaches can answer questions such as, how many people are impacted? How much damage is caused? What type of damage has occurred in the past and to whom? Qualitative questions reveal why and how people are affected and which impacts are most difficult for households to overcome. We’ve included a range of tools and methods to support you in identifying the priority impacts of the hazard that your EAP seeks to address below.
Method A: Review of historical (and current) data
When available, historical and current data from the government and national ministries are a valuable source of information regarding the impacts of past events and current exposure and vulnerability of populations at risk.
The following ministries may have relevant information regarding general or sector-specific disaster impacts and risk factors:
- National Disaster Management Agency (Disaster Risk Management Agency)
- Ministry of Health
- Ministry of Transportation
- Ministry of Climate/Energy
- Ministry of Education
- Ministry of Agriculture
- Ministry responsible for infrastructure/land use and/or housing
- Ministry for water and sanitation
- Agency responsible for national statistics
- Department of welfare
- National Research Institutions
In addition to government entities listed above, the following international databases and offer comprehensive country-specific impact data:
For data on risk factors, these information management sources may also be useful:
Method B: Literature review
A literature review allows you to gather relevant information from existing work (such as reports, studies, policies and other documents) to identify impacts and potential early actions. Systematic reviews of international disaster response and risk reduction literature can also identify relevant actions that have been tested in other humanitarian settings and to gather evidence about whether, when, why, and how such interventions are effective in preventing or addressing disaster impacts relevant to your context. When reading through contingency plans, policy documents, studies, or reports on past disasters, consider the following:
- How have people prepared and responded to this hazard in the past?
- Could any of these responses be implemented before the event occurred in order to reduce later impacts?
- Could these preparedness actions be reinforced or improved with FbF?
- What evidence is there that this action will work?
In the case of literature reviews of existing FbF examples:
- Are the early actions and lessons learned identified in the literature review transferable to the context of the EAP that is in the process of being developed?
Method C: Semi-structured, key informant interviews
Semi-structured interviews are conversations using a guide or a list of questions that need answering but that allow for the conversation to unfold more naturally. They differ from structured interviews or surveys (in which questions are asked in specific way and answers are often pre-determined) in their open-ended nature.
Especially in contexts, where little literature or data on past impacts is available, semi-structured interviews with government and disaster management officials, community leaders, staff and volunteers of response agencies and RC and civil society can help you gather information on priority impacts. After identifying the key impacts and risk factors, semi-structured interviews with sector-specific experts are extremely valuable to probe deeper into potential early actions.
Practical Guidance 1: How many interviews are enough?
Depending on the time and resources available, it is best to continue to conduct interviews until subsequent interviews no longer yield new information, and additional responses could be inferred based upon existing data and understandings (this is called saturation). In some instances, you may also exhaust the list of relevant informants.
In the Mozambican context it was not possible to reach saturation in every sector that is impacted by floods and cyclones. Due to time constraints, the FbF team focused instead on interviewees from the sectors most aligned with the Mozambique Red Cross capacities and priorities. Examples of semi-structured interview guides for government stakeholders, community leaders or members (if applicable), and sector-specific experts are available here.
How does this translate in an urban context?
The Vietnamese Red Cross (VNRC) together with the GRC, IFRC, and the Climate Center started the FbF project focusing on heat waves in Vietnam in 2018. This was the first to bring FbF into an urban context. But, in a densely populated city with 16 million people, how do you find out who is most vulnerable and how extreme heat impacts them? The VNRC launched the Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices (KAP) survey, randomly sampling 1200+ respondents in specific areas of Hanoi. Based on resident’s understanding of heat wave impacts, results from the KAP study were used to inform the selection of the early actions.
Method D: Focus group discussions
A focus group is a guided discussion, preferably conducted with a relatively homogenous group of individuals. You can conduct focus groups at various levels, including with national stakeholders, provincial or district officials, community leaders, or groups of practitioners.
Practical Guidance 2: Interviews or Focus Groups?
While interviews can help you to triangulate information from different sources, given limited resources or availability, it is not always possible to interview everyone individually. In such cases, small group interviews, or focus groups, can yield a wider range of opinions in a short period of time. However, care must be given to the selection of participants, power dynamics, gender, and age in order to ensure that everyone feels free to participate openly and honestly.
Both approaches seek to understand what disaster impacts are more common or likely, who and what is likely to be affected, as well as, existing coping capacities, responses, and potential early actions. In all cases, ask participants what kinds of actions might be taken before an event to reduce the damage and what kinds of resources or support would be needed to execute these actions.
Method E: (Post-disaster) Community visits
Walking through a community with leaders or representatives can be a valuable way to contextualize and deepen understanding gained through interviews and focus groups. Both structured transect walks (see VCA) or less formal tours of a community allow the team to observe local conditions first hand, hear stories, and ask questions that might not arise in a more formal setting. Although visits shortly after an extreme event allow for direct observation of impacts, walking through disaster-prone communities can provide valuable insights at any time.
It is always important to be respectful in the timing of your focus group or visit, and consult local leaders- representatives beforehand. For example, when visiting Nampula, Mozambique shortly after a tropical depression, local officials requested a walk through the village with local leaders rather than conduct a focus group (as planned) so as not to raise expectations of assistance.
Method F: Stakeholder workshops
Stakeholder workshops are valuable to elicit opinions and ideas while reinforcing the concept of FbF and their engagement in the EAP process. They can be used to identify which are the priority impacts that can be tackled by the FbF system and also to prioritize early actions, revise theories of change (see M&E guideline), and discuss how to operationalize early actions. Practical Guidance boxes 3 and 4 and the resource links below provide examples of workshop formats to identify, prioritize, and critically examine potential early actions.
Practical Guidance 3: Sample 1-day Provincial Workshop Agenda based on Activities Mozambique
- Presentation: Overview of the concept of FbF
- Presentation: Update on the FbF Protocol development
- Review of research findings and impacts of floods
- Individual Activity: Questionnaire asking stakeholder to rank priority impacts
- Group Activity 1: Ranking of key impacts in small groups (we divided participants according to the district from which they came)
- Presentation of ranking to the group
- Group Activity 2: Small group brainstorming and prioritization of actions that could be taken to address the priority impacts (RC Climate Centre game “Ready”)
- Presentation of actions to the group
Step 2: Prioritize impacts
Practical Guidance 4: Sample 2-day National Workshop Agenda based on Activities in Mozambique
- Registration and official opening
- Presentation of the Protocol
- Questions and answers
- Individual Activity: Questionnaire asking stakeholder to rank impacts (see Appendix F)
- Presentation of the research findings: primary impacts and evidence for potential early actions
- Group discussion: what early actions are missing?
- Individual Activity: Post all potential early actions (including those added by small groups) on the wall and have each person vote (with stickers) for the 3 priority early actions by placing their stickers on the appropriate paper.
- Presentation of results of Day 1
- Individual questionnaire results: which impacts were prioritized?
- Results of early action prioritization: which early actions did the stakeholders prioritize? Based on the above, which actions will the group recommend
- Group work – Revising and Refining the Theory of Change:
- As many 1.5 hours sessions as needed (with lunch as appropriate) to workshop key Theories of Change in small groups
- In Mozambique, we divided participants according to their expertise, so that WASH experts were working on WASH-related theories of change, shelter experts on shelter, and so on.
- Disaster managers more generally were divided evenly among the groups.
Once you have developed a comprehensive list of impacts, you must decide which you can and should focus on. The choice of how to prioritize will depend upon your context and needs. It is important to acknowledge that while FbF is a system that can contribute to preventing or reducing some disaster risks (that have not been reduced or managed via long-term disaster risk reduction), FbF cannot address all potential disaster impacts. . Therefore, the prioritization of likely disaster impacts is essential to developing realistic and effective Early Action Protocols.
For example, you may prioritize an impact based upon suffering caused to vulnerable populations, overall economic impact, stakeholder priorities (disaster manager priorities, NS priorities, community priorities, etc.), organizational capacity and expertise, and/or after considering the selection criteria for early actions presented in Step 4. As each of these methods yield opportunities, trade-offs, and challenges (see Practical Advice 7 & 8), a combination is likely most appropriate. The following previously explained methods can support your team’s disaster impact prioritization:
- Method A: Review of historical (and current) data
- Method B: Literature review
- Method C: Semi-structured, key informant interviews
- Method D: Focus group discussions
- Method E: (Post disaster) Community visits
- Method F: Stakeholder workshops
Method G: Surveys (such as knowledge, attitudes, and practices)
Unlike qualitative interviews and focus groups, surveys can allow your team to obtain quantifiable data and reach a larger number of respondents. This can be useful when asking people to prioritize impacts and early actions to be addressed by your EAP. For example, this stakeholder survey was conducted in Mozambique to prioritize the impacts of floods and cyclones.
Practical Guidance 5: Qualitative (Interviews of Focus Groups) vs Quantitative (Surveys) Primary data
Primary data is data you collect for yourself rather than from existing sources or databases. When deciding between data collection methods or tools, it is essential to consider what kind of information is needed and why, as well as the best source for obtaining such data. For example, while it may be tempting to quantify the impacts of past disasters using a survey, asking people to recall the consequences of past events is unlikely to yield reliable quantitative information, unless it is done immediately following an event.
Furthermore, depending on the scale of your proposed intervention, it may be extremely time and resource intensive to collect survey data from a representative sample. In such cases, qualitative data about past impacts will likely yield more detailed information regarding how and why disasters cause problems for communities. People are more likely to remember what they did and how they experienced an event than exactly how many acres of crops they lost. Government statistics (a secondary source) may then be able to provide quantitative data to support these qualitative accounts.
Depending upon the audience and sampling required, surveys can, however, be useful for ranking or for reaching a larger sample. The team in Vietnam, for example, used a Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices survey to understand how vulnerable populations experienced heat waves. Because they were working in a limited area (certain neighborhoods in Hanoi), it was possible for them to collect a large quantity of relevant data in a short time.
Thinking about the level of detail you need (including information on causality), from whom (scale), and how reliable that information is likely to be (can people to be expected to remember what you are asking?) can help you to establish which methods are most appropriate in your context.
It is well known that disaster losses and damages datasets of governments and institutions should be improved. Advocacy and technical support to government agencies and other institutions responsible for capturing detailed disaster impact information is essential to improve the capacity to identify effective early actions, as well as to develop better triggers (see Trigger section for more details).
Step 3: Identify and brainstorm potential early actions
Practical Guidance 6: Challenges in Prioritizing Impacts – Verifying and Weighing Stakeholder Perceptions
While key informants have valuable insight into their contexts, people may also have beliefs based upon misinformation, or make assumptions about cause/effect relationships and the severity of impacts that are not supported by systematic data. A lack of data does not automatically mean these observations are wrong, but it is always best to critically examine stakeholder assumptions using secondary data when possible.
For example, many humanitarian organizations and disaster managers will prioritize reducing loss of life over all other impacts. However, it may be that overall the event in question causes very few deaths on average. Early warning messages alone may be successful in reducing mortality, and it may be difficult to predict and prevent remaining fatalities. In such cases, the decision to focus early action financing on preventing immediate loss of life may still make sense, but the decision to do so should at least be informed by critical evaluation of actual mortality rates and the likelihood of making a difference rather than emotional or political aversions to loss of life alone. Data on who dies and how will allow for a more informed decision as to whether it is possible to effectively target this impact using early action.
In another example, stakeholders may believe that flooding leads to an increase in cases in diseases (such as cholera), leading to additional hardships such as loss of income or time out from school.
National health statistics, however, may reveal that overall case loads and mortality rates remain the same or are more closely related to other factors. It could of course be the case that these data are incomplete; however, they should be presented to stakeholders and considered along with stakeholder perceptions when determining which impacts to address and early actions to take.
If stakeholder priorities are contradicted by evidence, it may be appropriate to try to influence those priorities, but when contradictory data does not exist, is not seen as reliable or is not readily available, it may be necessary to rely more heavily on qualitative data and stakeholder perceptions.
As soon as you have selected the priority impacts related to the hazard and risk factors you are addressing, you can begin to explore early actions that might reduce those disaster impacts. The following methods (described above) can also be used to identify or brainstorm potential early actions. Be sure to involve experts from relevant sectors, such as shelter, agriculture, WASH and health, or disaster management. From our experience, many stakeholders tend to bring up traditional response actions only, as that is what they are familiar with. Especially in workshops and focus group discussions, but also in interviews, try to make participants also think outside the box and consider new solutions.
Method H: Policy and practice review
While this could be considered part of an extensive literature review, consulting local policy documents can be a source of potential early actions and help you to understand how FbF will fit within existing systems.
Documents to seek out include the following:
- Disaster risk management rules, regulations, and plans:
- It is important to understand how the overall system works in order to ensure that actions complement existing structures.
- Contingency plans:
- These will help you to understand existing responses from the national to the community level.
- Climate change adaptation plans:
- Although usually aimed at longer-term interventions, they may include plans for acute response or contain actions that could be adapted to different timeframes.
- Evaluations of previous programs or humanitarian interventions:
- These will help you to understand what has been tried, what has worked, and what has not worked in your context.
Method I: Consult global early action database
In addition to context-specific exploration outline above, the DREF FbA and the Anticipation Hub are developing a real-time early action database to serve as a means of sharing between FbF projects and across contexts of potential early actions that have been used or suggested in other contexts. This database will continue to grow as FbF expands to new areas and hazards. As with the early action ideas arising from the methods above, the feasibility and relevance of any action in the Database should be carefully assessed in relation to your context before being selected as an early action.
Other organizations have also created lists of early actions that you could consult. See for example the IASC SOP for Early Action to El Niño/La Niña Episodes that includes sample early actions in Annex 1.
Method J: Community ranking activities (See VCA)
Step 5: Develop Theories of Change
Participatory community ranking exercises, whether in the context of a focus group discussion or not, may also be helpful in identifying priorities at the community-level. The IFRC VCA Toolbox offers valuable guidelines on how to conduct such activities.
Once you have identified a number of promising early actions, it is time to operationalize and test the logic behind those ideas using Theories of Change. A Theory of Change (ToC) is a comprehensive illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. In the context of FbF, creating a theory of change means describing step-by-step how and why the desired outcome (in our case reduced humanitarian impact) will be attained by taking the selected forecast-based actions. It will help you to visualize, and eventually test whether your early actions are really likely to reduce the prioritized impact. A ToC is often created as a series of “if… then…” statements and then put into a visual representation, like a flowchart (see example below). It helps to think of a ToC as a map on which you mark the spot where you want to go (the desired result or problem solution). Then you draw a route on the map that you think is best to take to get from A to B (the description of the expected chain of results, from action to solution). You will realize that you make assumptions, for example, that a particular bridge is passable or that you can cover a certain distance per day. You also note down landmarks you expect to see on your way (intermediate results or milestones). It is very important to use all available evidence when building a theory of change, so that every “if… then…” relationship is built on information and evidence rather than conjecture.
A ToC can also be used as a basis for a logframe and monitoring and evaluation frameworks. Your team should therefore develop a detailed ToC for each considered early action for inclusion in the protocol. The choice of how many ToCs to develop at this stage will depend upon your team’s needs and your process for narrowing and testing your early actions. At the end of this process, your team should have a sound understanding of how and why each action will contribute to your desired results. ToC for the final selected early actions will need to be included in the EAP submitted to the FbA by the DREF.
The ToC process is a crucial step in your identification of actions, make sure to follow this guidance on steps to take.
At least four steps are involved in developing a theory of change:
Start from a specific goal, meaning the positive change the programme or project seeks to induce in order to address a problem that has been identified.
Example: “Reduce the incidence of diarrheal diseases in vulnerable communities when there is flooding in Exemplandia”.
Map out the process of change, working backwards from the specific goal. Ask: “What is required to bring about this change?” It is useful to do this as a team and consulting relevant and knowledgeable stakeholders. Tip: Note down process steps on post-it notes and put them on a flip chart (see example below). Visualizing a ToC helps team members to understand it more easily and question its logic.
Example: Visual representation of a ToC for Exemplandia (Fi. 4)
Write a narrative summary expressed as a sequence of logically linked events (“if… then…” statements) and support them with available evidence.
Example: “If all households in flood-affected communities have 30 days worth of water purification tablets and received information how to use them, then they will purify their drinking water. If they purify all their drinking water, the incidence of diarrheal diseases will decrease.”
Make implicit assumptions about how changes happen explicit and reference supporting evidence.
Tip: Note assumptions on post-it notes in a different colour and add them in between the process steps.
In the previous example, many assumptions are made that would need to be confirmed by evidence. For example, it is assumed that households understand and appreciate the information they have received about the importance of water purification, or they already have the knowledge and awareness to use purification tablets. But what if pre-existing knowledge about water purification is low?
What if written information materials are given to a household whose members cannot read? What if there are community members who speak a different language? What if there are reservations against using blue pills or tablets, based on previous bad experiences or rumors? What if households purify their drinking water but they don’t purify the water used for washing food items? What if safe hygiene practices are relatively unknown and household members don’t wash their hands with soap and water before preparing food and before eating?
All assumptions, as trivial as they may seem, should be made explicit and checked against evidence to see whether they are “safe” or they need to be addressed as part of the early action protocol.
Alternative visualization of a theory of change for forecast-based actions