Shock Responsive Programming and Adaptive Mechanisms
This handbook provides guidance for project design and management teams on shock responsive programs.
There is an increasing recognition within USAID and the larger international development community of the need for a shock responsive approach in development activities to help countries and communities mitigate, adapt to and recover from shocks thereby reducing losses, preventing a downward spiral of divestment leading to destitution and protecting hard-won development gains. Shocks are defined as “external short-term deviations from long-term trends, deviations that have substantial negative effects on people’s current state of well-being, level of assets, livelihoods or safety, or their ability to withstand future shocks”. Many shock-prone areas and systems also experience stressors and long-term pressures (e.g. degradation of natural resources, urbanization, political instability or diminishing social capital) that undermine the stability of a system (i.e. political, security, economic, social or environmental) and increase vulnerability within it. Stressors can undermine long-term development investment and reduce the ability and capacity of systems to deal with shocks. Shock responsiveness is especially relevant in regions and agro-climatic zones subject to recurrent shocks, such as droughts and floods. However, even in areas not subject to recurrent climatic shocks, crises associated with a wide array of shocks and stresses are possible, if not probable, within USAID’s usual project implementation timeframe of five years. In turn, this demands a more flexible, shock-responsive approach to development investment and programming.
The need to respond to shocks in development programming is not new. Assistance tools such as “Crisis Modifiers” have been used by USAID and other donors as an approach to support early responses to drought. In USAID, Crisis Modifiers have taken the form of an agreement between USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in Washington and USAID Missions whereby in the case of a crisis (such as a severe drought) OFDA will fund humanitarian activities within a specific USAID development activity. Crisis Modifiers have been used in shock prone environments to inject emergency funds through existing development programs to quickly address humanitarian needs, but they are limited in scope and funding and may not be a sufficient response in the case of severe shock. USAID/Ethiopia, in particular, has been a leader in using Crisis Modifiers to respond to emergency situations, especially in drought-prone pastoral areas.
The Crisis Modifier has proven useful in drought prone areas and as an initial means of enabling humanitarian response through development programs. However, this guidance lays out a range of options beyond Crisis Modifiers. This is because there is a need for a broader set of strategies and tools that any Contracting/Agreement Officer can utilize either very early on during the project design stage, or even during implementation to enable an integrated response that includes, but is not limited to, accessing OFDA funds through Crisis Modifiers. The aim is to enable a seamless and integrated response from both humanitarian and development partners and funding streams where the scale and depth of the shock demand coordinated action at scale.
A shock responsive approach includes the ability to employ a full range of development and humanitarian assets in anticipation of a shock to mitigate its impact and speed recovery once conditions subside. A shock responsive approach to program design and implementation is also an adaptive approach, which means missions should proactively anticipate and plan for shocks and changes in context and build in a high degree of programmatic and operational flexibility to be able to respond quickly and effectively at the appropriate scale. An adaptive, shock responsive approach is broad and can be utilized in a number of situations such as a drought, political changes and the need to change focus from one crop to another. According to a discussion on adaptive management on USAID’s Learning Lab, this shock response or adaptive approach “...could be adjusting interventions or whole strategies, experimenting with new ways of working, scrapping programming that simply isn’t working, or scaling approaches that have demonstrated value.”
This guidance is intended to inform USAID staff, especially Mission project design and management teams and OAA staff, on options for designing flexible, shock responsive programs and as well as options to respond to shocks through existing development programs that were not designed with shock responsiveness in mind.
This guidance is simply meant to focus on design and implementation approaches, tools and options that are currently available within USAID’s existing rules and regulations and make this information available in a concise format with specific examples that staff can draw from. It is divided into three sections that address approaches, tools and options for:
- Existing acquisition or assistance mechanisms
- Designing new assistance mechanisms
- Designing new acquisition mechanisms