Finding Ways Together to Build Resilience: The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology

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Oxfam's Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) tool develops a holistic, landscape-wide understanding of vulnerability and links up actors across various levels of governance to jointly identify and analyse root causes of vulnerabilities for distinct social groups and later design programmes and risk reduction initiatives accordingly, ensuring that they are equitable, gender-sensitive and effective. Attention to historical and evolving power dynamics is fully embedded into the design of the VRA, primarily through the convening of a Knowledge Group to inspire and drive the analysis. The VRA methodology has been implemented by Oxfam and its partners in twelve countries and by other aid and research organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the University of Cape Town and the University of Botswana.  Read more about the VRA.
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  JANUARY 2016 FINDING WAYS TOGETHER TO BUILD RESILIENCE The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment Methodology DANIEL MORCHAIN FRANCES KELSEY Oxfam GB Photos: Daniel Morchain / Oxfam, Oxfam in Ghana, Oxfam in Bangladesh, Oxfam in the Philippines Reflecting on the voices of people living in difficult and unjust circumstances, government stakeholders and development practitioners from around the globe, the authors propose that conducting a truly participatory, multi-stakeholder and cross-scalar contextual analysis that considers a wide range of hazards, as well as people’s capacities and aspirations, should become standard development practice. It is this type of participatory process that can facilitate an equitable, gender-sensitive, sustainable and appropriate design of pathways towards risk reduction and resilience. The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) methodology aims to constitute such a continually evolving process. This document presents the VRA principles, a how-to guide, and discusses the strengths and lessons learned from implementation. www.oxfam.org  CONTENTS Glossary 3   Introduction 4   Part 1: Principles 6   Part 2: How-to guidance 9   Part 3: Strengths and lessons learned from implementation 41    Acknowledgements 52   2 The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology  GLOSSARY Key VRA terminology Exposure The extent to which a social group (or a livelihood activity) could potentially – i.e. theoretically – be affected/damaged by the occurrence of a hazard or an issue. Hazards and issues  Factors that have an impact on the landscape, both at present and (possibly) in the future. They include weather and climate change impacts, environmental degradation issues, issues of unequal access to goods and services, gender and ethnic-related inequalities. Knowledge Group The backbone of the VRA – of its findings and its analysis. The Knowledge Group consists of roughly 15 to 25 people with a stake in the social-ecological landscape in question. It should have a strong representation of communities and of marginalized groups. The Knowledge Group will spend two full days together and run through the four steps of the VRA in a roundtable discussion approach; as such, the findings of the VRA are largely the result of this group's thinking. Landscape  A continually changing, ecologically and socially integrated environment where people pursue their livelihood through different strategies. A landscape includes: 1) different groups of people, some powerful, some living at the margin of society, and their cultural norms; 2) a limited pool of natural resources and the services they provide, to which people have different levels of access; and 3. socio-economic and governance factors, as well as national, regional and global forces affecting it. The Little Sustainable Landscapes Book  (Denier, L., et al., 2015) defines a landscape as a socio-ecological system that consists of natural and/or human-modified ecosystems, and which is influenced by distinct ecological, historical, economic and socio-cultural processes and activities. Risk The likelihood, or perceived likelihood, of the materialization of a hazard. Sensitivity The actual  impact of a hazard or issue on a social group (or on a livelihood activity) over a set period of time in the past (usually ten years before the VRA is conducted) Social group  A more or less homogeneous group of people within the landscape, such as ‘fisherfolk’, ‘women agricultural labourers’ or ‘migrant workers’. For the sake of conducting an assessment of a usually medium-to-large landscape, the VRA will base its analysis on these groups rather than analysing individual or household vulnerabilities. Vulnerability Seen as multi-dimensional and understood to be strongly influenced by structural factors, governance systems and inequalities. However, vulnerability is also something that even (most) marginalized and poor individuals can act to reduce. While the VRA uses the srcinal Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) framing of vulnerability, which makes it a function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity, we analyse each of these three factors holistically – i.e. beyond a strictly biophysical context. The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology 3  INTRODUCTION The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) methodology aims to develop a common understanding among a wide range of stakeholders about the main hazards and issues affecting people in a social-ecological landscape, and subsequently to jointly design measures to reduce risk, enhance well-being and promote resilient development in that landscape. The methodology does so through a participatory process of identification and prioritization of existing and future vulnerabilities, risks, capacities and ambitions. The term ‘vulnerability’ in VRA comprises hazards, but also the capacities of people and the environment to respond, adapt and overcome these hazards. The VRA brings together actors across different levels – community, local, municipal, district and sometimes national – to understand the links between these governance levels. It seeks to influence stakeholders to proactively propose ways forward and ensure development initiatives are driven by inclusive, locally-relevant decision making that benefits poor and marginalized people. In doing so, the VRA aims to trigger a sense of empowerment and collaboration among stakeholders. This is a complex process where chaos can arise; the VRA methodology welcomes this and addresses it with an attitude of openness and exploration, while promoting participation from grassroots levels. The VRA was developed by Oxfam to support practitioners to gain a better understanding of the context of landscapes and the communities and stakeholders that inhabit, depend on or use them. It also aims to actively and systematically include women in the joint development of an understanding of risks and ways forward – highlighting women’s capacities and the unfair structures that create inequality for women. Vulnerable people are rarely able to demand the critical support they require to manage the risks they face; this is central to the thinking behind the design of the VRA process, combined with the recognition that many risks need to be addressed across levels and by a range of actors. Box 1: What makes the VRA different and interesting? ã  joint analysis of vulnerability by a wide range of stakeholders and from different levels of governance ã  addresses the social-ecological landscape; not limiting its focus and responses to community level ã  seeks to integrate gender throughout the process and emphasizes the need to build analysis inclusively of women’s views ã  builds and strengthens relationships between stakeholders, enabling local issues and the voices of marginalized groups to come to the surface; ã  fosters empowerment through co-creation of proposals aimed at building resilience Timing-wise there is no single preferable moment to conduct a VRA, as it can be used for different purposes, e.g. to help design a development programme or project; to highlight issues facing groups of women or marginalized ethnic groups; or to raise the awareness of governments or donors about specific needs in a landscape. It can be implemented iteratively at different moments in time to assess the evolution of vulnerability for different social groups. The VRA process also helps to make people more comfortable talking about climate change by showing that climate change is not a technical issue that only researchers understand. Discussing, for example, drought and its real impacts on people’s everyday lives and the possible responses to it at different levels makes people aware that everyone can contribute meaningfully to action on climate change. Breaking this confidence barrier is essential if people are to participate in developing shared solutions to climatic and other change. 4 The Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodology
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