Adele Murphy

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Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Adele

  • Resilience – what works, what doesn’t?

    October 14th, 2016

    In his latest blog Colin McQuistan says that preparedness and response for disasters should be a last resort. The extensive time needed to recover and to rebuild capacity following a disaster in low income countries puts a halt to the development process, lends itself to massive economic costs and endangers lives. There seems little disagreement amongst development professionals that proactively building community resilience to disasters is much more effective at maintaining development than solely reactive interventions.

    The Resilience in Practice briefing series that Practical Action has developed through its work on the ground talks about building resilience in volatile environments. As a sector we are moving forward in strides but here’s the thing about resilience – it’s complicated, multi-faceted and with no definitive conclusion on how to measure if we’ve been successful!

    Flood victims are evacuated with their children as they rescued by naval boats in a village in Sukkur in Pakistan's Sindh province August 8, 2010.

    Flood evacuation in Sukkur, Bangladesh Photo: Reuters/Akhtar Soomro, courtesy www.alertnet.org

    This is not disheartening, how we measure resilience has received much attention in recent years and now the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance has taken this one step further and is currently undergoing a two year testing phase of its Flood Resilient Measurement Tool. We measure communities before a flood through 88 different indicators which feeds into existing processes and is validated through community feedback sessions. The tool design allows practitioners to view the data through several lenses in order to understand existing issues more fully.

    Following a significant flood incident a post-event study is undertaken within eight weeks of the disaster. This follow up study looks at the extent of the flooding, the damage people suffered and the action they choose to take. As well as being reviewed by the teams, all the data is fed into a global data set. The aim of the global data set is to understand key questions about resilience measurement. Can we identify a key set of indicators of resilience that expands across contexts, are there indicators that carry more weight in particular contexts and finally what can this global study tell us about how we attempt to build resilience.

    I am looking forward to reading the IFRC World Disasters Report launched later today. As two members of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance, Practical Action has worked closely with the IFRC on developing the measurement tool and we’ve learned a great deal from one another. Sharing what works and what doesn’t and continually engaging in the global conversation is how we move forward with resilience agenda. Don’t stop!

    Read some of the Alliance publications:
    Making Communities More Flood Resilient: The Role of Cost Benefit Analysis and Other Decision-Support Tools in Disaster Risk Reduction
    What Motivates Households in Vulnerable Communities to Take Flood Preparedness Actions?

    Preparing for El Niño floods in Peru

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  • Using technology to go beyond the ‘Resilience’ buzzword

    August 8th, 2016

    “Sustainable…Participatory…Resilience”…I have to admit that I hate buzzwords – they get thrown about so much that they can often lose their real meaning and ability to do any good. That is why to me the work of the Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance is so important. The Alliance works not only to increase the resilience of communities to floods but also to determine once and for all what makes a community resilient?

    Resilience is complicated; there are hundreds of papers, discussions and frameworks floating around the development space. Yet there are no empirically verified frameworks that lay out the contributing factors to resilience[1]. If we don’t know this how can we tell if we are successfully building resilience?

    To address this, the Alliance has developed the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool. Working jointly, the Alliance has identified 88 different sources that contribute to flood resilience and is currently halfway through a two year testing phase.

    Flooding in Bangladesh

    Flooding in Bangladesh

    The Technology

    Here is the most exciting part, the Flood Resilience Measurement Tool has been developed into a web based tool and an App. The web tool allows the user to design a study that can be sent directly to the designated field worker’s Android App in their local language. Working offline the field worker fills in responses directly to the app just like a regular survey. The data is easily synchronised to the web tool which generates a summary and collates relevant data together for simple comparison. A simple A, B, C, D grading exercise is then carried out across all 88 sources by team members before a summary is then automatically produced.

    Why is this good for the community?

    Helping people cope with climate change. Floating gardens enable poor families in Bangladesh to grow crops even when the land is floodedThe App: Saves our beneficiaries time during data collection so they can get back to doing what matters to them. Automatic uploading of data saves our teams time so they can spend more time working on things that really matter.

    The Grading: Generates informed discussion and gives our teams a greater knowledge of where they work, allowing them to make more informed decisions.

    The Web Tool: Simply presented results that can be looked at under a variety of lenses allowing us to make links which may have previously been missed.

    The Big Data Set: Data is entered into the tool from a variety of different contexts and countries by several different organisations. Through testing pre and post-flood events researchers hope to identify global trends in community resilience and determine once and for all where to focus disaster risk reduction interventions for maximum community impact.

    Read more about the Alliance and the Measurement tool or get in touch at adele.murphy@practicalaction.org.uk

    [1] Thomas Winderl, “Disaster Resilience Measurements: Stocktaking of Ongoing Efforts in Developing Systems for Measuring Resilience,” United Nations Development Programme, February 2014,

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  • International Coffee Day and Agroecology

    October 1st, 2015

    In honour of world coffee day I wanted to take a quick peek at what Practical Action is doing to help support the worlds coffee farmers. Its estimated that smallholder farmers produce up to 70% of the worlds coffee supply, so there is a very good chance that the cup of coffee you drank this morning was grown by a farmer and his family on a very small parcel of land. Despite being integral to the world coffee market these farmers don’t always benefit as much as they should. Farm sizes are small and farmers are often lacking in knowledge, skills and resources. This leads to unsustainable practices such as large-scale deforestation and improper use of chemical inputs. Low yields and low quality coffee beans are common.

    One particular Practical Action project in the San Martin region of Peru caught my eye. The farmers had been struggling with these issues for years, soil fertility was declining and the coffee plants in the area badly affected by a fungal disease that had reduced yield by nearly 50% from previous years. The farmers were also disorganised, they sold their coffee beans at market themselves and had no collective bargaining power to demand a better price.

    Practical Action began implementing a project guided by the principles of Agroecology. Agroecology promotes a holistic approach to farming that is knowledge intensive rather than inputs intensive. You can read more about Practical Action and Agroecology here.

    Organic composting

    Organic composting

    In San Martin Practical Action began to consult with local communities to get to the root of the problems and to work together to solve them. Eight agroecological practices were designed including forestry, terracing, integrated pest management and production of manure compost and other techniques that reduce dependence on external inputs and improve soil conditions. Local promoters were trained to work directly with the farmers and improve their skills and knowledge. Post harvesting skills were also improved so farmers could learn how to add value to their coffee beans before bringing them to market.

    Practical Action also supported the farmers to organise into producer groups and build strong relationships with buyers. These farmer groups were also trained to participate more effectively in the market with capacity building in market analysis and business management.

    Coffee farmer

    Better coffee and happier farmers

    The practices were applied successfully by the farmers participating in the projects and had a noticeable positive impact on production. The fungal disease that had massively reduced coffee bean yield was reduced from affecting 73% of plants to just 18% of plants. In just one year coffee production increase by 33% and the quality improved so much across the board that the beans achieved a higher quality grade allowing farmers to attract a higher price for their product.
    All these factors together with an increase in world coffee prices in 2014 saw the average farmers’ income increase by 252%.
    Furthermore 180 hectares of soil previously degraded by poor agricultural practices has been recovered and deforestation has been controlled 100% in the 11 communities covered by the project.

    So next time you enjoy your cup of coffee it’s also worth reflecting on the potential of agroecology to make your coffee taste that much better.

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  • Ensuring evidence for impact

    August 27th, 2015

    Delivering aid programs that effectively enhance the lives of the poor is the central goal of development organisations, donors and the public who support them. Since its inception development aid has saved countless lives and lifted millions of families out of extreme poverty, but are we learning effectively from what works and what doesn’t? How can we as NGOs be sure that the interventions we choose are the most appropriate and the most cost effective use of our funds? Building a well in the centre of a village and claiming that thousands of people were helped is not enough. We need to know how improved access to water has changed people’s lives. Are they healthier? Has school attendance increased because of healthier children? Is water access available to all that it was intended for? We need to ensure that we go beyond reporting of activities and critically reflect on the change that was leveraged.

    Women water TurkanaThis can be difficult; it can be easier to focus on our successes rather than our challenges, yet it is learning from our challenges that make us stronger.

    Development agencies must above all else be learning organisations and this is central to Practical Action’s ethos. With hundreds of projects across several countries we need to make sure that we can learn from each other’s experiences. Ultimately it allows us to target the areas where gaps exist and where we can have the greatest impact.

    A plan of action

    Practical Action has learned the importance of developing coherent monitoring, evaluation and learning plans during the development stage of a project. Taking such an approach will allow us to clearly measure success and learn from our challenges in a more efficient way. We are working hard to understand our data needs and find ways to effectively use our evidence for future projects. Creating an open forum for dialogue across our country offices has been central to creating an organisational learning environment. The forum allows for experience sharing where country offices benefit from similar challenges faced by others.

    Evidence based approaches are not the end all solution, no matter how reflective an organization, interventions do not always go as planned. However, it does offer the opportunity to test our approach, to use the findings to inform decisions as best we can and where necessary, change our direction.

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