More reciprocal, cohesive local collaborations needed for disaster risk reduction in the Philippines

Massachusetts, USA — For the Philippine disaster risk reduction (DRR) system to further strengthen and be sustainable, local humanitarian actors need to conduct more cohesive and reciprocal collaborations with each other, researchers from the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI) have recommended based on their recent study.

“Local organizations are best placed to prepare for and respond disasters. Our research suggests that international aid agencies continue to play a large role in the network of Philippines disaster agencies, pointing to the need to build greater ties between local disaster actors. Greater local coordination and networking can greatly strengthen the Philippines’ capacity to prepare for a manage disasters,” said HHI Resilient Communities program director Vincenzo Bollettino in a statement.

HHI, Harvard University’s humanitarian research center, surveyed a total of 501 international and local actors across the country from 2017 to 2019. Then, a network mapping and analysis were done by HHI and international nonprofit organization Root Change, among 387 of the study participants that had ties with other actors within the country’s DRR system.

More local actors yet many local ‘isolates’

HHI’s study, published on 29 October 2020, found that despite having many local actors working on disaster preparedness and resilience in the Philippines, many of them were not working cohesively on such issues.

The study showed that the low levels of collaboration between local actors was a result of the fact that many local actors were “isolates” or having no relationships with others working on disaster preparedness and resilience.

Out of 501 total network actors identified, 23% or 114 were isolates. Over 35 isolated groups were also mapped within the network. Sub-national actors or organizations that are working only within a specific locality or region, comprised 64% of 387 total actors that had network relationships. However, most of the isolates in the network were sub-national actors, too. They represent 90% of the isolates.

Many of the isolates were found to be small organizations that have fewer than 100 employees (73%). According to HHI, small organizations could have less capacity to create and upkeep relationships with other organizations working on similar issues, or that they are focused exclusively on serving a specific locality.

The most common organization type among the isolates was local government units (LGUs) at 30%. LGUs also had the most connections to other actors in the network. Academic institutions, particularly primary and secondary schools (26%), and higher education and research institutions (14%) were the other common organization types found among isolates.

According to HHI, the location of basic education schools might explain their isolation, especially if they are based in rural areas. Higher education and research institutions, however, might be expected to be better connected, as they typically have greater access to Internet and partnerships with government and international non-governmental organizations (INGOs).

Further research is needed to understand why schools and universities were not engaging much with others on disaster preparedness and resilience, and why they were not sought after by others in the larger DRR system, HHI said.

Low reciprocity

As a result of the large number of isolates, there were low levels of density or network relationships; average reach or spread of information, ideas or support; and reciprocal ties between local actors in the Philippines. This was despite 61% of the relationships identified in the study were local-to-local actors.

With a high number of formal relationships within the network, higher reciprocity is commonly expected. However, only less than 1% of relationships in the network were found to be reciprocal, or bidirectional between two organizations. Consequently, with such low reciprocity, actors display more seeking behavior — seeking information or support — rather than co-creating and co-collaborating, HHI explained.

Diverse local connections needed

With these findings, HHI suggested the boosting of connections to and collaboration with isolated groups and isolates in the country’s DRR system.

“It would allow for greater flow of information, ideas and resources within the country’s disaster preparedness and resilience network. Since many of the isolated groups are primarily sub-national actors, this would also help to increase the local system’s ability to respond to shocks and implement a coordinated strategy,” Bollettino explained.

Bollettino also emphasized the need for more local conveners or actors who can help bridge connections between groups. He said that it is important for local actors to have a diverse range of connections to others working at the sub-national and national level, to ensure that they have adequate access to information, ideas and resources.

HHI further recommended local DRR actors to utilize “multi-stakeholder platforms” that can help improve mutual accountability and co-creation between them, and support self-reliance in the local system.

Platforms such as social labs or “collective impact” initiatives can gather diverse local actors toward a common agenda related to climate change and disaster resilience, HHI cited.

The study participants were NGOs, community-based organizations (CBOs) or people’s organizations (POs); LGUs; government agencies; schools or research institutions; faith-based organizations; private organizations or companies; and affiliates of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.