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Strategic research into national and local capacity building for disaster risk management

Contributing to evidence-driven, approaches to capacity building for disaster risk management (DRM)

Lucrezia Tincani

Lucrezia Tincani, Marcela Tarazona, Zoe Scott

There is an increasing recognition of the importance of both national- and local- level responses to increasing disaster risk, yet the lack of formal, empirical research on how to build capacity for disaster risk management (DRM) has resulted in a dearth of robust guidance for international humanitarian actors. We worked with the University of East Anglia to develop a mixed-methods operational research strategy based on a conceptual model for effective capacity building drawn from research across various literatures. Semi-structured interviews, online surveys and secondary data sources were used to gather evidence in a case study approach that allowed for comparative analysis across a range of countries and contexts to help ensure the wider applicability of the research findings. The team also developed a monitoring and evaluation framework incorporating outcome- and impact-level indicators. By providing evidence of how to improve DRM capacity building initiatives, the project aimed to help strengthen humanitarian responses in those countries most vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.


Over the coming decades, the incidence, severity and impact of natural disasters is expected to increase, placing greater demands on humanitarian responses and relief efforts across a range of scales. This demand is coinciding with increasing recognition of the limitations of international responses - especially in fragile and conflict-afflicted states - and the growing importance of more local-level approaches to disaster management.

Despite this recognition, capacity building for disaster risk management remains chronically understudied with little empirical evidence from which to draw best-practice examples. This project was established to begin to address this knowledge gap and provide lessons and guidance for building national and local capacity for DRM in a range of different contexts.

Our approach

Based on a comprehensive literature review, the team constructed a conceptual model for effective capacity building at national and local levels. In turn, the model was used as the basis for a research strategy to examine recent capacity building interventions in several countries.

Ensuring the broad relevance of the research was a key focus of the project. A case study approach was adopted, focused around six countries which together represent a range of capacity building interventions and different contexts, including fragile and conflict-afflicted states. In addition, the team developed a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework aimed at providing robust performance information to support sustainable improvements over the lifetime of DRM capacity building projects.

Specific areas of work completed include:

  • Comprehensive reviews of DRM, capacity building, climate change adaptation, fragile states and governance literature
  • Development of a capacity building model to aid field-testing across a range of scales
  • Design, piloting and implementation of a mixed-methods research strategy incorporating stakeholder mapping exercises, semi-structured interviews, participatory ranking and an online survey component
  • Comparative analysis and publication of six country case studies, as well as a synthesis report, briefing papers and an animation
  • Development and testing of an M&E framework incorporating key outcome indicators
  • Convening a series of policy meetings and workshops to support stakeholder feedback and dissemination of key findings


This project provided crucial evidence for national and local capacity building for disaster risk management. By drawing out lessons learnt from a range of different country contexts, the project discovered valuable insights into the opportunities and challenges associated with capacity building initiatives at these levels. In turn, this knowledge will support DRM actors working in vulnerable, low-income countries to design and implement more effective capacity building projects.

Over the longer-term, these improved capacity interventions will support strengthened humanitarian responses, translating into reduced casualties and loss of life from natural disasters.