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Contingency planning and humanitarian action: a review of practice

Working papers

Humanitarian agencies have made significant progress in mainstreaming contingency planning into their management and operations. Important advances have also been made in the techniques contingency planners use. At the same time, however, achieving and sustaining truly dynamic contingency planning processes remains a major challenge for humanitarians beset with competing demands, limited staff time and constrained resources.  

This Network Paper explores the current process and practice of contingency planning in humanitarian organisations. It sets out the key terms and concepts relating to contingency planning, explores the contingency planning process, explains the main models used by humanitarian organisations and presents a new concept of the process that enables a more dynamic approach than previous frameworks.

The paper also looks at the practice of contingency planning, examining scenario development, including the techniques used, the types of scenarios that work in different circumstances and the challenges scenario planners face. A number of case studies illustrate these different approaches.

While important innovations in contingency planning have been made in recent years, a number of major problems remain. By identifying these challenges and attempting to chart a way forward, this paper aims to contribute to the further development of the field – with the ultimate goal of increasing the efficiency of humanitarian action.

Richard Choularton