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Designing and delivering safe programmes – is this where the challenges really lie for organisations’ commitment to Do No Harm?

by admin, 15th January 2018

News Stories

The design and delivery of programmes in both humanitarian and development contexts is driven by a number of factors. Often these factors include donor requirements, compromised timeframes (particularly in the delivery of aid) and replication of programmes with which the organisation is familiar with and which have worked elsewhere.

Increasingly, now, however, organisations are also recognising the importance of designing and delivering programmes which are ‘safe’ for children and beneficiaries whilst also delivering on (often) ambitious goals and objectives.

At the core of safe programming is implementing key actions to minimise or address potential risks at each stage of the normal programme cycle, consulting as widely as possible on programme design and implementation and engaging programme stakeholders effectively. Organisations face a number of challenges in doing this well.

Time and budget constraints (often particularly apparent in humanitarian programmes) continue to hinder organisations ability to design programmes using the key stages of project cycle, or even to fully implementing Core Humanitarian Standard commitments such as the Needs Assessment.

  • Situation Assessments may not fully grasp the realities, harm and risk faced by beneficiaries and children and if they have not been consulted, and their safety and protection risks not mapped sufficiently, the situation will not be understood well enough to prevent harm from the design and delivery of programmes;
  • Programme design is frequently done at a desk, using proposals which have been submitted for other communities. Risk assessments are generally done for issues which are given weight by donors e.g. finance and fraud, but less so for the risks of harm the programme might present to beneficiaries and children. Again, consultation with beneficiaries and other programme stakeholders is key, not only to understand and minimise risks of harm but also to agree with beneficiaries what risks they themselves can minimise with community action;
  • Implementation of programmes needs to be done in safe spaces, to and from which beneficiaries and children can travel safely. Sometimes safe spaces just do not exist in communities and difficult decisions are required on whether the programme should go ahead at all. Or making the space, and travel to and from the space, safe requires budgets which are considered excessive;
  • Monitoring and evaluation in some contexts is done remotely which presents various challenges beyond whether programmes are safe. However, without appropriate indicators, or baselines, to measure whether programmes are being delivered safely, monitoring processes and activities will not provide the information necessary to adapt and change an unsafe programme.

What supports organisations to programme safely?

  • Recognition and commitment to applying good programme design practices from donors and senior management. The safest programmes are usually those where the donor has required clear commitments and actions to Do No Harm and provided resources and flexibility to enable the programme to be designed and run safely;
  • Knowledge and skills in applying a safety lens to programme design. Staff supporting the design of programmes need to able to conduct risk assessments for Do No Harm and ask crucial questions on whether the programme is safe;
  • Engagement and participation with, and from, beneficiaries and children. Beneficiaries and children know well the risks and protective factors within their communities and can offer innovative solutions to addressing risks arising from the programme;
  • Resources to implement good quality programme interventions. If programme activities, materials, goods and services are to meet recognised quality standards for safety, they invariably cost more. Staff need to be trained and beneficiaries and children need to be involved in awareness raising on safety and protection.


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