Advancing Integration Series

Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Australian Government have been working together to strengthen the integration of disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change in Australian aid programs and policies (what we like to call ’DEC integration’). In a series of blogs by international experts, we explore the themes and lessons which arise from integration in-practice. Leader of the program, Katie Peters shares her insights on the key findings from this journey. Share your experiences on Twitter: #advancingintegration

Five things you need to know to advance integration… and what the hell is 'DEC' anyway?!

With any luck (and sensibility), the post-2015 Development Agenda will include disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change as cross cutting themes; and possibly even climate-related targets. Once the signing is done, attention will turn to how to do integration in practice. We’ve already made some headway….

‘DEC’ is the acronym we like to use to refer to integrating disaster risk reduction, environment and climate change adaptation and mitigation; you see why we use an acronym!
So, what have we learnt in the Advancing Integration programme?

In time and resource poor working environments the mainstreaming of new issues is often met with a sigh: seen by programme managers as a sign of inevitable increased workload. We have fallen prey to assuming that important topics need to be mainstreamed - universally and unequivocally - across all development and humanitarian aid. This is not necessarily the case. What we learnt is the need to champion ‘appropriate’ integration. Processes need to be in place to ensure that programme managers understand whether an issue is relevant for them (e.g. whether climate change may impact on their programme outcomes), and to take action if it is deemed relevant.
This more selective approach to integration is not yet prevalent across donor agencies or NGOs, but is needed. Why? Because more meaningful integration can be pursued by programme managers who have the time to concentrate on the important topics relevant to their programme, rather than integrating because it has been universally dictated they should do so. Here are 5 things we’ve learnt on our journey.

1. You don’t have to become an expert on everything!

A common reaction I’ve heard from programme managers being encouraged to integrate is ‘we can’t be experts on everything’. I believe this reflects a failure on the part of integration champions to effectively communicate what integration is really about. It is not making one person a ‘Jack of all trades’ – an expert on everything at once – it is about having an awareness that certain risks may affect your programme and supportive institutional processes to enable experts to provide technical assistance. Perhaps surprisingly we found that integration does not require programme managers have substantial technical expertise on all issues, just enough to know when that issue requires expertise to be brought in.

2. Consider whose wallet is being used

Financing heavily shapes practice: this can act as an incentive towards integration or be a barrier. We found that funding can stall integration as departments compete against one another for money, not wanting to commit to taking on issues that they see as beyond their remit. On the other hand, when funding is available for cross cutting issues (e.g. for climate change), integration can be incentivised: either through that issue – such as climate change – reaching out to be mainstreamed into other areas; or by others who want to show the direct relevance of their work to that issue (e.g. demonstrating the relevance of environmental sustainability to climate change adaption). Pursuing integration is therefore not just about the ‘how to’ but ‘whose wallet’ is being used.

3. You will need to put the time in

No one wants to admit it, but the reality is – certainly in the initial stages – integration processes do increase workload. However, the outcomes are anticipated to be longer term sustainability of an intervention; and when you think about it, this reduces your workload over the longer term (as well as being good for the world’s poor!). Achieving quality integration demands real effort be put into tailoring the integration of DEC (or any topic for that matter), to suit the context.
Yet juxtapose this with the reality is that in time-poor, high pressure working environments, simplicity and speed are of the essence. Formulaic toolkits and handbooks often get bad press, but we found that a Handbook which guides people through steps to integration – and crucially asks them to gauge the extent to which an issue is relevant for their work – avoids integration for integration sake; encouraging more thoughtful and selective process.

4. Integration isn’t about increasing the workload of someone else

All too often issues are taken to others, without looking at whether we are effectively integrating ourselves. This is important because speaking from experience about how, when and why to integrate others’ issues will bolster your chances of effectively advocating to others.
For example, imagine you work on disaster risk reduction (DRR). You may champion DRR within the infrastructure department to ensure their investments account for disaster risk. Yet within DRR programmes have relevant issues, such as gender or climate change, been integrated?

5. You don’t have to label something as integration for it to ‘count’

In order to raise awareness of the need for integration it is important to have stories to tell, concrete evidence and dialogue on the issues. This requires labelling, coding and tracking of inputs, outputs and outcomes. Yet the reality is that integration could very well have happened ad hoc or unintentionally and some of the best examples we found were not labelled as ‘integration’. If we create processes and procedures around integration, could this become stifling to those who already integrate but do so organically?

Each agency will deal with this challenge differently. We learnt that some of the best quality examples of integration occurred where programme managers had comprehensive and personal understanding of the context in which they are working; not as a result of a checkbox exercise. Flexibility is required to recognise that processes of integration are not always planned but are equally valuable.

Based on experience of mainstreaming different issues into development practice, we know that in order to do this properly, a whole suit of products and processes are required. The  Advancing Integrationproject certainly took that on board, with materials ranging from primary evidence gathering, to secondary literature review, to Theory of Change workshops, to capacity-building and training sessions, to internal dialogues and debates. What is clear is that in order to be effective – as well as garner the political backing and funding required – time and dedication are required for an agency to truly become ‘integrated’.

Integration is not easy, but it is worthwhile. It is of great credit to those who pursue integration for the benefit of more sustainable development interventions, and as the preparations for the post-2015 Development Agenda indicate, this is the future to come.