What is risk-informed development?

An introduction

Risk-informed development prioritises the risks faced by communities living in the most vulnerable situations. It works through the perspective of people most at risk themselves. Communities come up with development solutions that mitigate their risks and build resilience. 

GNDR wants to prevent hazards from becoming disasters. As a global network of civil society organisations we can easily think that we are ‘all in this together’ as we respond to the hazards, risks and challenges that cause disasters.

However, when taking a closer look at communities and the risks they face, it becomes apparent that we are not ‘all in this together’ in the same way. Threats, risks or challenges discriminate.

Risk-informed development prioritises the risks faced by communities living in the most vulnerable situations. It works through the perspective of people most at risk themselves.

Communities most at risk come up with development solutions that mitigate their risks and their build resilience. Their reality, lived experience, knowledge, organisation and action allows us to be truly risk-informed in planning for development. It is an approach which enables more sustainable and resilient development overall.

The primary aim of risk-informed development is to prepare the most vulnerable communities for future risks, take up proactive measures to mitigate risks and to build the resilience of communities and the landscapes they occupy and depend on – and do this through a process led by them. 

Risk factors are part of the places in which we live, such as the environmental capacity and the ecosystem service provided. Unfortunately, risk factors are also linked to people’s actions and social, economic and psychological factors that put certain people more at risk than others.

When development is not risk-informed, communities most at risk report that far from offering progress, this so-called ‘development’ actually creates risk, increases existing risk and wipes out potential development gains. It challenges everyone involved to recognise that development choices create risk as well as opportunity.

Risk-informed development can only be achieved if the development planning process is informed by the knowledge of risk and acts to then mitigate the risk. Risk-informed development planning therefore must involve multiple stakeholders with multiple objectives and agendas so as to streamline action and decisions through coherence and collaboration. 

The purpose is to arrive at documented strategic actions and mutually agreed decisions that will: 

  • Avoid creating complex risks through poor development choices
  • Reduce complex risks by using development to reduce vulnerability and exposure, and increase resilience
  • Promote iterative and constant learning to improve sustainable development and resilience

Most importantly, if development planning considers local risk from the perspective of those most at risk, its potential for positive impact on the lives, livelihoods and assets is substantially strengthened. 


“The water we have is unsafe although we use it for drinking and cooking. We are not included in community planning and decision making.” Muwamunya Patience, Uganda © GNDR/Jjumba Martin

GNDR has identified six risk drivers: these are the contexts in which reducing disaster risk has become more challenging as the world changes.

These six risk drivers are:

  • Climate change
  • Forced displacement
  • Urbanisation
  • Gender inequality
  • Food and water insecurity
  • Conflict

These risk drivers are interconnected and have the potential to amplify existing risk and negatively impact the development of communities most at risk, as well as society at large.

Understanding these risk drivers and how they operate or influence communities, especially from the perspective of those most at risk, can help make effective and relevant decisions to be more risk-informed. 

A localised understanding of the intrinsic factors that increase peoples’ vulnerability to these risk drivers across diverse geographies, socio-cultural and economic contexts is vital. 

Risk-informed development integrates this risk perspective by embedding risk drivers and hazards into the development planning process across each stage.


Development planning is a decision-making tool. When this process is applied by communities most at risk and those around them, it allows them to make informed decisions to realise their aspirations as a community, for themselves and their place. 

Risk-informed development resolves issues and roadblocks in their progress and growth – especially risk from risk drivers and hazards.

Conventional planning practices are now being replaced by more dynamic and iterative processes as landscapes and communities rapidly transform. This is partly due to hazards and their associated risk drivers becoming more complex, intense and frequent.

The GNDR community-led and participatory risk-informed development planning process involves nine stages. As development plans and strategies are reviewed on a regular basis, revisit the nine stages. Always ask: How can communities most at risk and everyone around them work together to strengthen resilience and prevent hazards from becoming disasters?

GNDR hopes that local knowledge, expertise and realities from the perspective of the communities most at risk will contribute to the development plans of all actors, including government, international institutions and the private sector, so that policies and practices are more risk-informed and hazards are prevented from becoming disasters.

The GNDR risk-informed development guide and toolkit sets out the principles, approaches, stages and steps to complete risk-informed development planning.

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.

View guide

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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