Better Programming Initiative

Based on the Do No Harm approach and the Local Capacities for Peace Project adapted by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Primary purpose

Impact assessment methodology and training initiative for analysing the positive or negative impact of Red Cross / Red Crescent National Societies, aid programmes on communities recovering from violence or conflict

Intended users

Red Cross / Red Crescent National Societies and Delegation programming staff and volunteers

Levels of application

Local, national and regional levels

Conceptual assumptions

Aid cannot reverse or compensate for the suffering and trauma that has occurred during conflict. It cannot prevent conflict from continuing or restarting, but it can be the first opportunity for war or violence affected communities to experience an alternative to conflict as the sole basis for their relationship with opposing groups.

In the context of post-conflict recovery, where resources are scarce and violence is endemic, the selective allocation of aid can be a powerful reason for disagreement and conflict between those who receive assistance and those who do not. How National Society and Federation programmes use and distribute resources will have an impact (positive or negative; direct or indirect) on the context in which they are working. Even if their approach is totally neutral and impartial, the perception of those who are excluded from assistance may be completely different.

Where aid organisations, particularly local Red Cross and Red Crescent, can make a difference is in the planning and implementation of their own aid programmes. Humanitarian aid can and should promote long-term recovery and reconciliation within and between communities – at a very minimum it should never become a pretext for or cause of conflict or tension between groups.

Main steps and suggested process

1. Analyse the context

  • Identify dividers within the categories of systems and institutions; attitudes and actions; values and interests; experiences; and symbols and occasions
  • Identify connectors within the categories of systems and institutions; attitudes and actions; values and interests; experiences; and symbols and occasions

2. Describe the aid programme

  • Describe in details the planned / undertaken activities in terms of why, where, what, when, with whom, by whom and how
  • Analyse important institutional issues such as: mandate/influence in programme implementation; headquarters role/influence in programme implementation; fundraising/influence in programme implementation

3. Identify the impacts

  • Will the planned action reinforce a connector or weaken one? Will it aggravate a tension or lessen one?
  • Use some specific questions as guidance, for example:
  • Is our aid provoking theft, thus diverting resources towards the potential conflict?
  • Is our aid affecting the local markets, thus distorting the local economy?
  • Are our distributions exacerbating divisions within the population?
  • Is our aid substituting controlling authorities’ responsibilities, thus allowing further resources to be invested in the potential conflict?
  • Are we, through our aid, legitimising local supporters of the potential conflict or those who want reconciliation?

4. Find alternative options

For each impact identified (positive or negative) as a side effect of the planned programme:

  • Brainstorm programme options that will decrease negative effects and increase positive ones;
  • Check the options for their impact on the other connectors and dividers.

5. Repeat the analysis

As often as the context demands, and as often as the project cycle indicates

Guiding questions / indicators

See the section above

Required resources

Required resources and time will depend on the scope and context of the assessment. A training kit, with different modules, was created to introduce the Better Programming Initiative (BPI) in 90 minutes, one day or three days session. A BPI training of trainers workshop (9 days) was also developed.


Initially undertaken in Colombia, Liberia, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Tajikistan and Kosovo. In order to contribute to the institutionalisation of the BPI methodology within National Societies, the International Federation is training National Society staff and delegates as BPI trainers and integrating this tool within other Federation planning and assessment tools.

National Societies and Federation delegations are using the tool to assess the positive or negative impact of their projects, especially in post-conflict situations and in countries recovering from violence.

Lessons learnt

1. Assessing needs

Well-planned aid programmes can ease suffering and reduce vulnerability, providing a genuine foundation for recovery. However, experience in all six countries has shown that a thorough needs assessment is not enough unless it is accompanied by an in-depth analysis and understanding of the context, at the level of the intervention.

2. Designing programming

Rehabilitation programming by humanitarian aid organisations, including the International Federation, is increasingly used to support recovery and transition plans which form part of an overall political settlement. Evidence from several of the countries in which the BPI was piloted suggests that, when the Federation supports National Societies engaged in rehabilitation programs linked to political settlements, it needs to examine carefully the conditions under which it will be expected to work. Inevitably, there are groups who may oppose the settlement and the recovery plan that provides aid and resources to their former enemies. The population may also be sensitive to the type of assistance provided and the proportion in which it is allocated.

3. Selecting and accessing beneficiaries

Throughout the BPI testing phase, National Societies and delegation staff found that the most common way in which they may contribute to fuel tension is through the selection beneficiaries, without undertaking a thorough analysis of the needs of all groups affected by the conflict.

Commentary on the tool

Although this methodology initially focused on conflict and post-conflict situations, it has now been recognised that it may also be useful in other contexts. There are also concrete and successful examples of the BPI methodology used to analyse the impact of our National Societies, institutional capacities, as well as the impact of our Disaster Response, Disaster Preparedness and Development projects.

The experience also shows that BPI can be an element of analysis that supports the linkage between aid or relief and longer-term recovery and development. As a planning and impact assessment methodology and training initiative, BPI may also be a capacity-building mechanism.

For reports and details on the BPI, visit the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.