Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned: Disaster Risk Reduction in a Changing Climate

Lessons About Lessons Learning in Theory and Practice

Lessons About Lessons Learning in Theory and Practice

Individuals and governments are in the lessons learning business so-to-speak. Just about every organization goes through the “ritual” of identifying formally or informally good and bad lessons (especially bad ones) from its past activities in order to improve efficiency, effectiveness, organizational image, or the financial bottom line. 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 and about the value and limitations of using lessons as an input to policy making. This is especially true for those drawn from location-specific case studies.


In February of 2015, the Consortium for Capacity Building (CCB) convened a meeting of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) experts in Antalya, Turkey, to discuss lessons learned about lessons in DRR. The Forum was convened because researchers at CCB had determined, through previous research, that many of the so-called “lessons learned” have in fact only been lessons “identified.” There are no preset criteria for calling a lesson identified as a lesson “learned.” Identifying a lesson does not guarantee its use in the case of future, similar disasters.

At the end of the meeting, the experts draft six calls to action, including a learning portal, integrating CCA, DRR and development, and improved hydromet Early Warning Systems (EWS). El Niño may provide an entry point for each of these calls. As discussed elsewhere on this site (See below and Teleconnections) there are hundreds of El Niño lessons that could be shared on a portal; El Niño can be a link between CCA, DRR and development (Sustainable Development); and El Niño teleconnections may serve as the impetus to develop EWSs (EWS).

The full text of the Antalya Statement can be found here.

This link takes you to an interesting review published in July 2014 by the World Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group report “Learning and Results in World Bank Operations: How the Bank Learns.”

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters (by Portia Nelson) is a poem captures a human nature response to recurring adversities.

Chapter I

I walk down the street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I fall in.

It isn’t my fault.

It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I pretend I don’t see it.

I fall in again.

I can’t believe I am in this same place.

But it isn’t my fault.

It still takes a long time to get out.

 Poem found here

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I see it there.

I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,

my eyes are open.

I know where I am.

It is my fault.

I get out immediately.

 Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.

There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.

I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

Lesson From El Niño

Michael Glantz

This book contains 16 country-case studies related to the 1997-98 El Niño event, now called “The El Niño of a Century.” Once Burned Twice Shy?

Every government has several warning systems. However, they are often poorly funded to carry out the tasks that have been so perfectly spelled out in documents and work so well in print, on paper, and in PowerPoint presentations. Knowledge of the El Niño phenomenon and its teleconnections, if appropriately used, can help more than a few governments and societies around the globe to mitigate if not avoid the worst impacts of El Niño-related hazards. The better applied the science is to societal needs, the more secure will be the knowledge base upon which decisions are made.

Most people view El Niño as a negative event. But, not all countries are directly affected. However, countries it might compete with in selling or trading their goods might be affected by an event. Most countries have competitors in the international trading of commodities such as agricultural products. Even if a country does not see a clear impact of an El Niño on its territory, it should be of concern to see how an event might adversely affect its competitors. Hence, El Niño knowledge and warnings have value even to those not directly affected by it.

Download Here: Once Burned, Twice Shy Overview OverView

El Niño Lessons Learned from our Galapagos Workshop

Highlights of lessons identified at this workshop are as follows:

The phrase “climate knowledge” encompasses knowledge about climate variability, climate change, and extremes, as well as climate forecasting, and is used to enhance resilience, increase profits, and reduces economic and environmental risks.

  • The notion of “El Niño knowledge” broadens concern from forecasts of a specific El Niño at a given point in time to one that includes all available knowledge about El Niño, including forecasts, as well as historical and indigenous accounts of El Niño-related socioeconomic impacts that had resulted from previous droughts, floods, fires, and infectious disease outbreaks.
  • The ultimate challenge is to find a better way to use El Niño knowledge in a peoples’ search for an improved sustainable future.
  • The use of the term “weak,” often used to describe the intensity of an El Niño event, when referring to relatively small increases in sea surface temperature, is very misleading in terms of early warning. It sends a message that potential users might not have to worry about impacts.
  • For infrequent climate-related hazards, such as El Niño (or La Niña), it is difficult to develop a high level of confidence and trust in forecasts over the short term. Forecasters need time to develop a track record.
  • The lack of effective communication to, from, and with the local level by those at higher political levels increases risk to climate-related impacts of local communities.
  • The ability to forecast various aspects of El Niño is still limited because air-sea interactions in the Pacific are nonlinear. No two El Niño episodes are exactly alike, nor is the set of impacts associated with them.
  • The scientific community owes it to the public to update its El Niño-related impacts maps.
  • Improved El Niño-related hotspots maps can provide an early warning, a “heads up,” to decision makers about the likelihood of El Niño-related hazards that an El Niño could spawn in their jurisdiction.
  • People expect their governments to take action when they hear that an El Niño is coming – preventive (i.e., evasive), mitigative, or adaptive.
  • An El Niño forecast sparks a cascade of forecasts of potential impacts downstream from El Niño’s onset.
  • Strategic thinking within a specific sector, such as fisheries, should involve using El Niño knowledge and lessons identified from the ENSO experiences.
  • Though we often refer to an El Niño forecast, we are really talking about a process where several El Niño forecasts are issued in series.
  • Learning about El Niño and its consequences is best undertaken between El Niño events and not while an event is in progress.
  • Regionalizing an El Niño forecast system around the Pacific would encourage the sharing of experience.

Full Report

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