The risk-informed development approach

A rights-based approach

Risk-informed development enables communities most at risk to be leaders and key decision makers of development – and their future. It empowers individuals and communities at risk to take action today and in future to prevent risks and build resilience. The risk-informed development approach captures local knowledge and better understands the localised implications of various global and local factors of influence. It aims to ensure that no one is left behind.

Risk-informed development planning integrates participatory action and embeds risk information into existing planning processes. It is therefore necessary to consider: 

  • How we incorporate the risk perspective of those most at risk while carrying out the development planning exercises
  • How we use risk information, including from the perspective of those most at risk, while planning for community development such that communities most at risk have better resilience against various risks as they progress into the future

When identifying those individuals and community groups most at risk, it must be remembered that whatever circumstances they face, people deserve their human rights – the basic standards every person deserves to live a life of dignity.  

Rights are economic, social, cultural, civil and political. They are universal and indivisible. One person is not owed more or fewer rights than another person. They should be seen with collective responsibility. It is the primary responsibility of the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights. 

However, where rights are denied, the issue should be addressed to tackle the root causes and empower people to achieve or claim their rights, and enable duty-bearers to meet their obligations. 

The rights-based approach within risk-informed development takes the side of people who suffer injustice and inequality, seeing them as active rights-holders who can be empowered to change their situation. 

Risk-informed development aims to address the fact that communities are at risk because their human rights are being denied. 

They don’t have access to, or equitable control over, the resources or rights they need to be resilient and lead a life of dignity.

When individuals’ rights are denied, their experience of risk starts. What begins with a loss of self-confidence or hope, leads to further displacement from the power needed to address their situation. 

Once displaced from resources or the decision-making processes connected to them, it becomes easier for individuals at risk to be criminalised, blamed, stigmatised, and eventually made invisible by those in authority – who are meant to protect, respect and promote their rights.

The multiple denial of rights increases as disasters strike. Risk drivers – including climate change, conflict, food and water insecurity, forced displacement, gender inequality and urbanisation – further deplete resources and amplify the multiple and complex risks faced.

Gender inequality or discrimination once again can prevent certain groups accessing the resources they need to rebuild their lives. Patriarchy and social exclusion continue to reduce the collective or individual rights available. 

Those most at risk are therefore prone to injustice, and left without the power to address their denial of rights. They are not considered when designing policies addressing risks.

It is essential that we strengthen and build power as part of risk-informed development, in order to address the fact that rights are denied. If power is the ability to influence another’s actions, then power imbalances that deny rights must be addressed.

Risk-informed development therefore aims to primarily include them so that in considering their rights, power and the risk factors they face, development becomes risk-informed, sustainable and resilient.

Building power for risk-informed development means:

  • People have control over their own lives
  • Power is diffused to communities most at risk
  • Skills and capacities are developed to build self-confidence and make decisions that improve life chances
  • The anticipated futures of individuals and groups – especially those most at risk – define and shape the world around them (environmentally, economically, socially and systemically)


“We attend the Gram Sabha (village council) but we are not able to give any input because we do not have sufficient knowledge about local government plans.” Sukanti Behra, India. © GNDR/Sarika Gulati

People at risk are central to risk-informed development. 

It is essential that the risk-informed development approach is inclusive and this means involving those most at risk in the process. They are critical to understanding and assessing the complex threats, risks, challenges, opportunities, uncertainties and options faced by communities most at risk. Civil society must partner with them.

The foundation of any engagement with communities is built on trust and accountability. Building positive relationships with the community is a starting point. The role of civil society is not in directing or dictating to communities what to do, but in facilitating, building awareness and creating an enabling environment for community members to take leadership roles in risk-informed development planning. 

Local considerations of risk are central to the risk-informed development approach. With regards to risk-informed development planning, it is important to bring coherence between actions that communities take up and the actions already existing in the formal development planning frameworks, which are applicable or relevant to the community. 

Risk-informed development planning at the community level has to leverage the provisions of existing plans, policies and actions across sectors and scales. At the same time, it must evolve to inform regional and national policies around disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and sustainable development. This bridges the gap between local, national and international plans and encourages localisation.

Building relationships is key in all we do. These tips are a reminder of how to do this:

  • Listen to different perspectives, especially those most at risk
  • Connect with the people most at risk through one-on-one conversations to get to know them individually; when working with children and young people connect through schools or organisations, ensuring child safeguarding processes are followed
  • Consult and communicate with community groups and individuals about the risk-informed development process to co-design how and when communities want to carry out development actions
  • Encourage ideas and suggestions from community members about how they want to engage in risk-informed development planning
  • Consult with leaders and community representatives before agreeing on the format for carrying out and completing each stage of the process to ensure a good relationship with them

Ensure that all groups in a community or neighbourhood, especially the most at-risk, are actively included and participate in every stage of the risk-informed development process in the following ways:

  • Identify the most at-risk groups in the community that civil society organisations (CSOs) work with
  • Organise focus group discussions with specific at-risk groups to further understand their perspective; at-risk groups could include women, people that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, people living with disabilities, minority groups, younger or older people, etc.
  • Ensure that workshops, meetings and discussions are scheduled at times appropriate to those most at risk, and repeated if necessary to ensure inclusion, and at times that maximise participation
  • Ask broad, open-ended questions (not yes or no questions); the intention is to encourage discussion between the members and share ideas
  • Pay special attention to support the participation of the most at-risk groups when they are involved in conversations or events with others
  • Accommodate different language and communication methods to ensure everyone understands and can contribute to the conversation
  • Ensure that all community members have the opportunity to speak
  • Be culturally sensitive, especially when working with diverse cultural groups
  • Pay special attention and design appropriate communication methods for those who need it (e.g. children, youth, older people or people living with disabilities)
  • Be flexible in allowing participants to take breaks during workshop sessions, focus group discussions or community forums 
  • Facilitate and encourage informal and ice-breaking sessions to enable diverse groups to work together and interact directly
  • Ensure participatory exercises are flexible in schedule and conducted in places where all community members can comfortably and easily participate

Gender inclusion

Gender inequality arises from the expected roles of men and women in a society, which influences socio-economic status, the level of agency, and the way men and women prepare for, react to, are impacted by, and recover from disasters.

Natural hazards are gender neutral but the impacts are not. Men and women, and boys and girls face different levels of exposure and vulnerability to natural hazards, driven by gender relations and discrimination in society. Gender dynamics play a role in a wide range of factors associated with resilience – from preparedness levels to access to coping mechanisms that can support recovery.

We can build gender inclusion by ensuring:

  • That women hold leadership positions
  • That each stage and process of risk-informed development planning accommodates women’s time and convenience
  • Methods for meaningful participation and inclusion are incorporated 

Effective risk-informed development, whilst primarily includes people most at-risk, needs to involve a range of stakeholders. 

To ensure strong collaboration:

  • Identify local partners for collaboration, for example: experts and academics from the fields of geography, social sciences, natural sciences, development and health; private sector philanthropists, prominent local companies and industries; and local government units
  • Identify local institutions for collaboration during each of the stages, for example educational, technical and local government agencies 
  • Include facilitators from already established community organisations (if present) to conduct the workshops or exercises
  • Explore the scope of local funding partners in sponsoring or supporting smaller activities and requirements in the risk-informed development process
  • Explore continued sponsorships with larger corporate social responsibility funders; CSOs should ensure that community representatives and leaders in charge of risk-informed development planning are involved in these discussions

This resource is taken from our Risk-Informed Development Guide, which provides a comprehensive stage-by-stage approach to working with communities most at risk.

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Project partners

Our Risk-Informed Development Guide was produced as part of our Local Leadership for Global Impact project. The project and all related content was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). All content is the sole responsibility of GNDR and does not necessarily reflect the views of the BMZ.

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Our Local Leadership for Global Impact project is implemented in partnership with Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe.

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