Expert Forum on Lessons Learned about Lessons Learned About Disaster Risk Reduction in a Changing Climate
Michael Glantz, et al.
The reason for convening the Expert Forum is that many “lessons learned” have in fact only been “identified” without further evaluation or application. There are no preset criteria for calling a lesson “learned” nor does identifying a lesson guarantee application in the case of future, similar disasters.
Just about every organization searches formally or informally for good and bad lessons (especially bad ones) from its past activities in order to improve efficiency, effectiveness, organizational image, or the financial bottom line. Marlin (2008) suggested “It would be nice to say most of the learning comes from our successes, but the reality is that most of the learning comes from our failures” (p. 1). Individuals and governments are in the lessons learning business so-to-speak. For governments it is the politically correct thing to do. For individuals and groups the search for lessons is undertaken as a matter of survival. Information gathered from Internet searches shows that there are many competing views about what constitutes a lesson as well as on the value and limitations of using them as input to future policy making.
Why Aren’t Aid Organizations Better Learners?
Organizations responsible for international development assistance have long been perceived to be slow learners. One of the main problems pinpointed in Cassen’s 1986 study, Does Aid Work?, was that aid organizations do not seem to learn from their mistakes. The recent Swedish Foreign Ministry report (Organizational Learning in Development Cooperation: How Knowledge is Generated and Used, 1998) arrives at a similar, though more nuanced conclusion: that aid agencies learn, but “slowly and cautiously.” The African experience has been particularly well documented. A 1991 World Bank study of aid to African agriculture noted that sparse technology and limited local capacity had reduced the yield of donor investments, but pointed out also that aid effectiveness had been:
“limited by … narrowly defined project objectives, short time horizons, ambitious project targets, inadequate understanding of the broad policy and sector issues and their impact on project operation, and poor knowledge of the socio-cultural environment. In the evaluations commissioned by the donors themselves, these factors had already been identified as important constraints on smallholder growth. Yet this literature had little impact on donor behaviour.”
A 1996 study of aid to Africa has different notes but the same tune: “Attention has regularly been drawn to the excessive complexity of projects and the lack of realism of their demands on government capacity. Yet there is no evidence of a reduction in complexity in recent years.”
Categories: Lessons Learned