Unearthing Collective Wisdom: Strengthening Disaster Preparedness & Early Action with PLA Tools and Principles
Early Warning Systems (EWSs) are an important part of achieving relief and development goals. Their purpose is to prevent and/or mitigate the effects of disasters – be they related to weather, conflict or disease. Most EWSs, however, are still focused on triggering action by governments and official stakeholders that speeds up and increases the effectiveness of humanitarian relief efforts. While more attention is being given to designing people-centered EWSs, especially regarding the development of the warnings, less progress has been made in understanding how to best elicit early preparation, prevention, and mitigation actions from the exposed and vulnerable populations themselves.
Food for the Hungry conducted a comprehensive literature review of psychology, social and behavioral change theory and practice to propose a socially- and behaviorally-informed approach to EWS design, development, and implementation. The approach focuses on identifying proper early actions and the determinants of those behaviors in order to improve the likelihood that affected populations heed early warnings and take proper action to protect themselves and the resources they may require for recovery. While the paper makes a strong case for applying a behavioral approach, it does not provide stakeholders with practical tools to do so.
Global Learning Partners (GLP) was invited to assist in creating a set of tools and resources, along with the Training Guide, to equip both government agencies and non-governmental organizations with a simple methodology to identify behaviors that are impactful and feasible for the affected populations and to identify the determinants that support or inhibit the adoption of these behaviors.
Together with GLP, Food for the Hungry (FH) tested several Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) tools in drought-prone northern Kenya to identify resilience behaviors and their determinants. We trained local staff to facilitate the data-collecting process and analysis, and conducted the training with the GLP/FH trainers joining virtually and the Kenya field-staff in-person in the field.
Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) tools offer many benefits for improving EWSs and their effectiveness in prompting action, they:
- engage community members to analyze their own situation and provide critical information from their perspective to the NGO staff
- are respectful of communities, acknowledging their expertise in their context and daily lives
- encourage curiosity and humility on the part of the NGO staff
- are a relatively simple methodology that is commonly used in development work.
As a result of this collaboration, FH field staff have been strengthened in the skills of research, qualitative tools and methodology, as well as learning-centered principles and practices. The 3-week program was profound in what it accomplished in these virtual times: the data collected, the findings and recommendations offered, and the prototype process for replication elsewhere.
As one team member stated: “Personally, this is the first time that I have been exposed to PLA tools. I will not forget this and am so grateful. It will help us in our work and we have become better facilitators. … We have learned so much from each other, about doing meaningful research, and collaborative processes.”
What is a PLA tool?
Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) is an approach for learning about and engaging with communities. It has been around for a long time and combines an ever-growing number of techniques and methods with skillful facilitation to collect rich data to help planning, decision-making and programming.
Thank you to Food for the Hungry, with Mary deCoster (lead) and Claire Boswell, for inviting GLP into this important and exciting work.