Section 7: Programming in Emergencies


Policy in emergencies

Natural disasters, conflicts and other shocks and crises almost always have a disproportionate impact on the lives of people living in poverty, as the impact of disasters is often a reflection of the inequality that exists in a society. Direct service delivery and programmatic response are often not enough to enable these people to recover fully, which is why policy and advocacy work have an important role in emergency response and during the post-emergency recovery period. We can achieve a much greater impact through direct advocacy, campaigning and policy analysis than by doing programme work alone. Our integrated approach to policy and programming reflects and embodies the human rights-based approach.

Policy work can help to address the structural causes of vulnerability such as poverty, discrimination and exclusion that were pre-existing in society, and are exacerbated during disasters. Policy work also aims to ensure that disaster response is just and equitable, and that change is sustainable through empowering poor and affected people and changing power relationships. Ultimately we must remember that in times of crises there is increased opportunity to challenge and change power relationships, and the opportunity for policy discourse is higher due to the greater visibility created by emergencies, as the people/situation and issues are at the centre of attention.

Note: there is a fine line between the end of emergency response and longer term resilience building and human rights work. Emergencies can present opportunities to launch advocacy initiatives or campaigns that address poverty and inequality broadly, as these factors of course make people more vulnerable to disasters.

Guidance on policy work

  • policy work should be evidence based; especially from the ground level

  • policy work should start on day one of an emergency, but should also be covered in preparedness plans

  • policy work must have coverage (must be based on our work on the ground, not based on what we think, but what we do)

  • programme work must have leverage

  • analysis must be orientated to women’s rights. We are also taking sides with women who are living in poverty and exclusion, and are affected by disasters

  • we will be led by the community (ask communities to develop plans which all agencies can use, also look at how communities are linking with other agencies, and allow the government to co-ordinate if they are able to).

What is policy influencing work?

Policy influencing means deliberately influencing governments and other power holders who decide on policy and practices that have a humanitarian impact, i.e. violate or deny rights. Areas of possible influence include:

  • laws and policies – relating to schemes, programmes etc.

  • institutions – e.g. disaster management centre

  • budget allocation

  • discrimination in implementation.

Examples of what we can accomplish through policy work:

  • strengthen the agencies of right holders in emergencies to ensure security, assistance and the right to participate in key decisions, among other human rights

  • shape the policy discourse and raise issues to form public opinion and media attention for slow-onset disasters

  • achieve a long-term reduction of poverty and reduced risk to climatic and non-climatic hazards and shocks.

How do we do policy and advocacy work during emergencies?

ActionAid’s programme and policy work form a continuum. In other words, our advocacy and policy activities are informed by the realities and facts gained from working with communities and partners on the ground. Doing policy work means helping to shape how things are done or how things are. A policy is a stance or a position on an issue, or can also be the rules and regulations that shape people’s actions and behaviours. Advocacy is the actual activities that we undertake to transform existing or establish new policies. In any situation, we must know:

  • the current situation;

  • what we want to change and;

  • what we need to do to move from the current situation to our new, ideal scenario.

The process of developing a strategy is the policy analysis—when we analyse the present situation and decide what changes we want to push for. The advocacy strategy is the overall plan developed that, as already noted, will transform the present scenario into the scenario that we envisage, where people affected by disasters are able to claim their rights, and where governments and other power holders uphold these rights.

Top level policy analysis to determine key issues on which to focus:

  • research should examine the structural causes of vulnerability and poverty

    • there can be short and medium/long-term issues

    • must do risk analysis before deciding on an issue to take forward

    • determine what other actors are doing on this issue

    • ensure that communities are involved in the analysis and determination of an issue area to take up.

Detailed strategy development for moving forward:

  • know how much financing is available for this work

  • understand how this will link to your other policy and programme work

  • how many staff resources are available for this work?

  • ensure that communities and partners are involved throughout the planning process so that it truly is representative of the people

  • again, be sure of the risk involved in any specific policy area or advocacy issue.

Taking action

  • determine the best approach to take in your advocacy:

    • targeted advocacy to specific individuals or groups

    • coalition building

    • campaigning

    • local, national and/or international level activities.

Link with other like-minded actors where possible:

  • ensure that advocacy work is connected to what is happening on the ground

  • as always, ensure that community members/groups are involved and aware of all activities, especially women’s groups

  • always stay informed on other activities going on which may impact your work

  • be flexible to change your activities in the face of a change in environment.


Campaigning is different to other forms of advocacy because we aim to bring about significant political change through actively mobilising large numbers of people to make demands on the powerful.

  • campaigning is one way to build large-scale grassroots support for an issue

  • an effective campaign requires substantial input of financial and staff resources, including flexible funding to support longer-term campaigning work

  • it is important to follow the ActionAid International protocols for launching any international report or press release for a wider international audience

  • formulate advocacy and communications strategies for all campaign work – with clear messages and alternative solutions.

Steps for developing a citizens’ report:

Key steps on what ActionAid does:

  1. analysis of existing policies, e.g. on violence against women, look at policies on protection of women

  2. train partners, and turn policies into simple materials which communities can understand

  3. enable communities to look at policies and review if they are working and what are the gaps. Also look at public commitments made by officials

  4. federate community groups (to bring those issues up to national and international level) to agree messages

  5. bringing messages to national level – e.g. sharing with government or UN locally (national advocacy)

  6. bring messages to international level: community voices are key (international advocacy).

Further Reading


The Annexes