Collaboration in Crises: Lessons in community participation from the Oxfam International Tsunami research program | Oxfam

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Since early in 2005, Oxfam has carried out research in the affected communities of India and Sri Lanka, laying the groundwork for programs, capturing observations and experiences of community members, and exploring new approaches to disaster response and risk reduction. The program was aimed at improving the policies and practices of Oxfam and other aid agencies, as well as contributing to the effectiveness of the global humanitarian community in future emergencies. The studies were designed and carried out by local and national academic institutes and non-governmental organizations – partners who brought to the task an awareness of the local context, and perspectives and ideas that were fresh to Oxfam. The research capstone report summarizes the findings and achievements of this research program.
  Collaboration in crises | i   Collaboration in crises:   Lessons in community participation from the Oxfam International tsunami research program  ii | Collaboration in crises   This report introduces the studies and findings of the Oxfam International Tsunami Disaster Risk Reduction and Participatory Action Research program, hereafter referred to as the tsunami research program. For information about the program, including an electronic version of this report, summaries of the research, stories from the field, and details about the research program itself, please visit or contact Russell Miles ( or Elizabeth Stevens (“Collaboration in Crises” is one of four Oxfam International reports that mark the end of Oxfam’s response to the Indian Ocean tsunami. The others are the “Oxfam International Tsunami Fund End-of-Program Report” (December 2008), an overview of the entire tsunami program; the “Oxfam International Tsunami Fund: An Evaluation of the Tsunami Response” (planned for March 2009), a synthesis of 13 evaluations conducted to extract lessons from the tsunami program; and the “Oxfam International Tsunami Fund Annual Report and Accounts” (planned for May 2009).  Table of contents Executive summary 2 Foreword 4 Introduction  9 I.  Research as a tool for thinking locally 13 II. Methods and partners 17 III.  The central finding: Communities want more ownership 21 IV.  Owning disaster risk reduction: A prelude to community-guided disaster response 25 Conclusion  29 Stories from the field 33There is nothing that cannot be changed: The gender study 34Research that could save lives: The HIV study 36A process that can’t be rushed: The disaster preparedness program review 38The perfect knowledge for survival: The community-based disaster risk reduction study 40Forecasting a better future: Linking development and disaster risk reduction programs 42Drawing water to a thirsty village: Following the lead of a community 44 Appendix I:  About the research and our partners 47 Appendix II:  Publications of the Oxfam International Tsunami Disaster Risk Reduction and Participatory Action Research program 50 Appendix III: Oxfam’s humanitarian research in Aceh, Indonesia 51 Notes  51 Acknowledgments 52 About Oxfam International 53  2 | Collaboration in crises The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 was a disaster of epic proportions, and the humanitarian response that followed was extraordinary in its speed and magnitude. Aid providers and communities on the ground achieved enormous successes, averting disease epidemics, ensuring that the people affected quickly received essential relief, and rebuilding communities with improved housing and infrastructure, as well as helping expand the roles and opportunities for women and girls. The scale of the disaster also magnied weak -nesses in humanitarian practice—shortcomings that get to the heart of the relationship between aid providers and those they aim to assist. Looking back over the past four years, there is cause to celebrate successes in the tsunami response, and cause for serious reection on how to improve the way we do our work. Between 2005 and 2008, Oxfam International and its partners developed a research program in the tsunami-affected regions of India and Sri Lanka aimed at improv-ing the policies and practices of Oxfam and other aid agencies in the tsunami response, as well as contributing to humanitarian aid effectiveness in future emergencies. The program involved roughly 40 individual studies— around 20 large and 20 small—on topics including disas-ter risk reduction (DRR), gender equity, climate change, physical and mental health, livelihoods, conict, and local capacity. Each was designed and implemented by researchers from academic institutes and nongov-ernmental organizations in the region—partners who brought to the task an awareness of local context and perspectives, as well as ideas that were fresh to Oxfam. Nearly all of the studies employed elements of partici-patory action research (PAR), a methodology in which participants are engaged as partners rather than sub- jects, where researchers work to create space for diverse groups within communities—not simply designated leaders—to speak freely and openly, and where the end result of the study directly benets the participants.This report shares the key ndings of several of the studies and reects on the lessons we drew from the program. Research as a tool for learning and action.  Taking the time to understand the local context of a disaster can make the difference between a humanitarian response that is clumsy or deft; short-term or sustain-able; divisive or inclusive; and, from a community perspective, dignied or disempowering. PAR provides a means of learning about local conditions; the studies in this program also helped bring about signicant local impacts, such as increased incomes for self-employed women, successful advocacy for improvements in shelter conditions, and help for vulnerable farming communi-ties in adapting to a changing climate. A message from the communities.  The studies covered a range of topics, yet converged to deliver a key mes-sage: disaster-affected communities want a chance to guide their own relief and rehabilitation. Too often, the research revealed, the knowledge, capacity, and priorities of communities were overlooked, and their members were cast as consultants or passive recipients of aid rather than as equal partners in the process. A key area for improvement in humanitarian programming, the studies indicate, is in ensuring that our programming centers on communities’ true needs and aspirations—not our preconceived notions of what those needs and aspirations are—and that community members feel ownership of the programs aimed at their recovery. DRR as a prelude to community-guided disaster response.  The goal of community ownership of disaster response programs provides an additional lens through which to view DRR programs: how do they contribute to a community’s ability to engage with aid providers as active and equal partners and guide those providers to address the community’s needs and aspirations at times of emergency? Relearning what we know about humanitarian practice. Humanitarian agencies have understood the need for more community-centered programming for years—decades, even. Yet as the research revealed, we continue to struggle with a set of obstacles to achieving it, including competition among aid providers, which undermines the kind of coordination that would work best for communities; the pressure to push aid quickly Executive summary
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