Benefits / Harms Handbook

Primary purpose

To help humanitarian and development workers take responsibility for the impact of their work on people’s human rights. It offers a set of simple interrogative tools that help staff think more deeply and effectively about the impacts of their work, and taking responsibility for both positive and negative impacts. It also provides a framework for monitoring potential negative or unintended impacts, as well as ways to mitigate these.

Intended users

NGO project managers and other field staff and consultants working in the areas of development and humanitarian assistance. The methodology may also be of interest to national government officials and possibly donors.

Levels of application

Project level, although the concepts could be applied at other levels as well.

Conceptual assumptions

1. Human-rights approach

CARE’s human rights-based approach to relief and development presupposes that all people are entitled to certain minimum conditions of living with dignity (human rights). Relief and development organisations aim to help people achieve these conditions, thereby acknowledging their human responsibility to do so. This implies they take responsibility for the human rights impact of their work – whether positive or negative. Human rights are therefore the central criteria for analysing the overall impact of a project.

2. Analytical framework

The methodology is based on three categories of human rights and impacts:

  • Political rights and impacts (e.g. right to equality and recognition before the law, right to a fair trial, freedom of thought and expression, right to association and political participation)
  • Security rights and impacts (e.g. right to life, liberty, security of person, movement, freedom from torture, forced displacement, degrading treatment, sexual assault, arbitrary arrest)
  • Economic, social and cultural rights and impacts (e.g. livelihood security, nutrition, food security, water, health, education, clean environment, shelter, participation in one’s culture).

Main steps and suggested process

The Benefits / Harms Handbook contains tools for situation analysis (profile tools), impact assessment (impact tools), and project (re)design (decision tools). In particular:

  • Profile tools help users gain a more comprehensive understanding of the contexts in which they work
  • Impact tools help users think about the unintended impacts of their work
  • Decision tools help users work through difficult decisions when there is a real danger of harming people with an intervention

The handbook assumes that most of the information required to answer the tools’ questions is already available from the organisation’s field staff. Further information can be gathered from individuals familiar with the local situation, who are invited for consultation. If the organisation has been working in the area for some time already, it is recommended to hold a workshop inviting middle-level and field staff as well as local experts. For assessing a new project, the questions in the tools may be put to the local community in a sensitive way.

Guiding questions / indicators

The profile, impact and decision tools are organised according to the three categories of human rights, namely: political, security and economic, social and cultural rights.

In addition, the profile tool also focuses on rights, responsibilities and underlying causes, in order to help users think about the underlying causes of any human rights problem. To this end, consideration is given to the actions, attitudes and artifices (e.g. systems and structures) that cause the rights problem.

Required resources

Depends on the required research. A few hours talking through the profile tools with local staff are considered enough in emergency situations. Otherwise, workshops with field staff, decision makers and possibly additional experts are recommended.

Current applications

Projects in East Africa must conduct a benefits / harms analysis before starting implementation. The intention is twofold:

  • To conduct such an analysis prior to implementation
  • To ensure that the benefits/harms thinking also pervades the project implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

Lessons learnt

It is not possible to design a totally ‘harm-free’ project upfront, so that equal emphasis needs to be placed on the follow up, in the form of an ongoing benefits / harms analysis during the project implementation, and the identification of ways to mitigate potential negative impacts.

Commentary on the tool

The benefits / harms tools themselves are fairly straightforward to use and capacity can be built quickly. But it takes organisational commitment to make them work.

Full Handbook

Benefits and Harm Handbook