New blog & website

May 13, 2010

This blog is no longer active.  Please visit out new blog and Programme website at

Our new site and blog outlines:

· what the HFP does
· how its programme works
· the tools and resources we offer
· information on events
· discussion forum with links to YouTube interviews with the HFP Director, Dr. Randolph Kent.

We urge you to view a short film about the activities of the HFP in the news section of the homepage, or by clicking the HFP logo in the signature below. Note in particular, our feature entitled – Jeggle’s Journeys – in which Terry Jeggle draws on his 40 years’ experience to offer a personal insight into future humanitarian priorities. And of course, we welcome your feedback on the new layout and encourage you to comment on the issues raised in the blogs, in the section headed, Discussion Forum.

Many thanks to all the readers and contributors of this blog over the years.  All new material will be posted to the new blog from this time forward.  Please update your links.

Collapse dynamics: a lecture on complex change in social systems

June 16, 2009

Noah Raford, a contributor to this blog and consultant with HFP, posts this video and slides from a recent lecture on collapse and social transition he gave at the LSE Complexity Programme.

Video of the talk can be found here, thanks to our good friend Vinay Gupta:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Thanks to Professor Eve Mittleton-Kelly and all those who attended from the Collapsonomics group.

CAFOD / Liverpool visit

April 18, 2009

We had a productive visit last week between CAFOD and the team at the University of Liverpool.  Emma Visman (of HFP) has some good notes of the interactions(which we hope she will post soon).

Cyril Caminade produced a blog entry here.

Will update more later.


UPDATE FROM HFP  – Professor Andy Morse is an HFP Climate Change Exchange Fellow, more of which can be found here.

Announcing the HFP Climate Change Exchange Fellows

April 8, 2009

Please join us in congratulating the following HFP Climate Change Exchange Fellows, as previously described here.

The 2009 Fellows are:

  • Mike Edwards, CAFOD
  • Andy Morse, Liverpool University
  • Clodaugh Byrne, CAFOD
  • Cyril Caminade, Liverpool University
  • Adrian Thomas, Met Office
  • David Wightwick, Save the Children UK
  • Jose Luis Penya, Christian Aid
  • Richard Ewbank, Christian Aid
  • Lydia Baker, Save the Children UK
  • Martin Todd, UCL
  • Stephen Edwards, UCL
  • Richard Jones, Met Office
  • Mark New, Oxford University
  • Steve Jennings, Oxfam UK
  • Suraje Dessai, Exeter University
  • Charlotte Sterrett, Oxfam UK
  • Emma Visman, HFP

These fellows will be spending time at the following aid and science organisations:

Pilot One
     Humanitarian partner: CAFOD
     Scientific partner: Liverpool University

Pilot Two
     Humanitarian partners: Save the Children UK and Christian Aid
     Scientific partners: University College London and The Met Office

Pilot Three
     Humanitarian partner: Oxfam GB
     Scientific partners: Oxford University and Exeter University

Pilot Four
     Humanitarian partner: HelpAge India
     Scientific partner: TBC

We look forward to seeing short bio and introduction here soon!  As always you can keep track of the Climate Change Exchange related posts by clicking here, clicking the “climate change exchange” category to the right, or by searching for the “climate change exchange” tag on this blog.

The HFP Climate Change Exchange

April 8, 2009

The HFP is currently running a pilot exchange programme linking climate scientists and humanitarian policy makers.  Those involved in the exchange will be posting comments, thoughts and reflections here over the months of April and May, 2009.

In four different pilot projects, scientists will be spending two days at a humanitarian organisation, learning about the needs and challenges of the sector and reflecting way that climate science could inform policy and operations. Humanitarian policy makers will then be hosted at the partner scientific institution, to gain a greater understanding of the work done by climate scientists, the tools available to them and some of the issues around assessing and using scientific data.  

The exchange programme came out of an initial workshop on using climate science hosted by the HFP in January 2009 which explored ways that humanitarian organisations are approaching climate change. Four pilots are taking place during April and May in the UK, and onein India, and following it is hoped the programme can be expanded. 

Click here for a list of posts from the Climate Change Exchange Fellows, as well as look out for posts on the main blog page with the tag “climate change exchange“.

Resilient, durable, or agile? A metaphor for future aid organisations

March 26, 2009


Much talk is made about resiliency as a social strategy in the face of uncertainty.  But is this the right metaphor for future aid organisations?


Resiliency is an often used term in climate, ecology and social sciences, taken to denote a sense of flexibility or endurance.  The dictionary defines resilience as the ability “to recoil or spring back into shape afterbendingstretchingor being compressed,” or to “be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions the fish are resilient to most infections.”  It is thus often associated with the term flexibility.

A good image of resiliency then is the reed, which can bend in the face of massive pressure and then bounce back into shape. 


The French word for sustainable is durable.  The two terms have something in common; sustainable is often defined as “the ability to maintain a certain level or rate,” while the English word durable can be defined as “the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage.”  Thus resistance to change or the maintenance of a current state or form is implied by both.

A good image of durability then, is the oak tree, which can withstand massive amounts of pressure unchanged.


The corporate and private sectors make much use of the term agility, which can be defined as “the ability to move quickly”.  Agile comes from the Latin agilis, meaning “nimble or light, easily moved.”  Agility is thus associated with the concepts of change.  Like resilience, agility is also related to flexibility, but more so in the sense of change or transformation.

A good image for agility then, is the gymnast, who can quickly reconfigure themselves in the face of massive pressure, in a way which balances or relieves this pressure.

Which metaphor is most appropriate for the future of aid?

Given the “perfect storm” we are facing in the coming decade, which is metaphorically equivalent to the “massive pressure” discussed above, which of these three concepts makes the most sense for aid? 

Do we want an aid system that is resilient, i.e., that will be able to bend and flex in the face of stress, and then return back to its current form?  Perhaps, but what exactly is its current form, and isn’t this changing all the time?  Is it possible to hope for some kind of stability in the face of massive change?

Or do we want an aid system that is durable, i.e., resistant to large amounts of pressure and stress, doing its best to maintain its current structure and relationships?  Isn’t this perhaps what we already have, a system resistant to change?  And what happens in the classic children’s story about the Oak and the Reed?

Or finally, do we want an aid system which is agile, i.e., can actually change and transform itself in new ways, like a gymnast, ultimately morphing into some entirely new balance of forces and stress?  Isn’t this perhaps the most desirable metaphor to use?  Doesn’t this take into account the evolutionary, indeed, co-evolutionary nature of the world?  

Which kind of aid system do you want in the future?  Resilient, durable, or agile?

A report from Copenhagen

March 18, 2009

ReslienceScience has a nice link to the impressions of a scientist in Copenhagen last week, which we have covered previously here, here and here.

The brief dispatch provides an interesting insight into the gap between science and public understanding.  This was one of the main issues which emerged from our Climate Science / Public Policy Futures Group (covered here).

Reflecting on this, one climate scientist wrote:


Being a climate scientist these days is not for the faint of heart, as arguably no other area of research yields a sharper contrast between “eureka!” moments, and the sometimes terrifying implications of those discoveries for the future of the planet.

“Science is exciting when you make such findings,” said Konrad Steffen, who heads the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colorado.

“But if you stop and look at the implications of what is coming down the road for humanity, it is rather scary. I have kids in college — what do they have to look forward to in 50 years?”

And that’s not the worst of it, said top researchers gathered here last week for a climate change conference which heard, among other bits of bad news, that global sea levels are set to rise at least twice as fast over the next century as previously thought, putting hundreds of millions of people at risk.

What haunts scientists most, many said, is the feeling that — despite an overwhelming consensus on the science — they are not able to convey to a wider public just how close Earth is to climate catastrophe.

That audience includes world leaders who have pledged to craft, by year’s end, a global climate treaty to slash the world’s output of dangerous greenhouse gases.

It’s as if scientists know a bomb will go off, but can’t find the right words to warn the people who might be able to defuse it.

Planning for future climate change crises workshop

March 13, 2009

HFP recently hosted a successful “Planning for Future Climate Change Crises” event, bringing together leading UK scientists, policy makers, and aid organisations.

These are particularly relevant given the recent posts on climate change severity and the importance of policy dialogue.  Please feel free to download and distribute.  PDF’s and PPT’s from this event can be found here:

Key excerpts:

  • We should do what military strategists and the engineering and insurance communities have done for years – estimate an acceptable level of risk and plan accordingly.”
  • Remove uncertainty by using worst-case scenarios. If the worst doesn’t occur then that’s good; if it does, then we’re prepared = win win!”  – Mike Edwards, CAFOD
  • “It is important to consider how climate forecasts relate to aid organisation’s planning time scales.  Do 20 year forecasts matter if your planning cycle is on a 3 year window?”  – Dr. Andy Morse, University of Liverpool
  • We need aid organisations to tell us what kind of forecasts they need if we are to be able to provide it to them.”  – Dr. Richard Jones, The Met Office
  • “90% of climate change adaptation strategies can be implemented without the need for climate forecasts.  These are low regret, easy win options that benefit people now.” – Dr. Ron Wilby,  Loughborough University

Climate science and humanitarian planning

February 5, 2009

HFP recently hosted a seminar in London on the interface between climate science and humanitarian planning.  Megan Rowling posted an excellent piece on the seminar on AlterNet, which can be found here.

The seminar identified several key barriers to better communication between climate scientists and humanitarian strategists.  One problem is time frames – most climate models predict changes in the 20, 50, or 100 year time frame – well beyond the planning horizon of most humanitarian organisations.  A second barrier had to do with geographic scale; most models are unable to produce decision-relevant forecasts for small enough geographic areas to be of value to humanitarian groups.  For their part, climate scientists argued that they didn’t get the kind of feedback they needed from humanitarian aid groups to be able to provide scientific output they could use.

The seminar concluded with several recommendations, as highlighted by Rowling in her AlterNet piece.  These include:


  • Taking climate scientists into the field with humanitarian staff to introduce them to realities on the ground
  • Building a web bank where aid agencies can find reliable climate data
  • Creating a discussion forum so scientists can better understand aid agencies’ information needs, including time scales and the most urgent geographical gaps
  • Using local and indigenous knowledge to build up records of climate patterns and collaborating with communities on gathering weather data
  • Finding low-tech ways to pass on climate information to local communities in a form they can understand and use
  • Applying climate science to verify local experiences of climate change and establish underlying trends
  • Compiling case studies to boost practical knowledge about the impacts of climate change and vulnerability to climate risk
  • Using existing institutions, such as farmer field schools and local media, to raise awareness and stimulate dialogue about climate change at community level
  • Promoting national and regional initiatives on climate change, such as the Climate Outlook Forum for the Horn of Africa

    HFP will be synthesizing and summarising the seminar in more detail for key stakeholders in the near future.  Drop us a line if you’re interested in receiving these summaries.

    HFP Stakeholders’ Forum a huge success

    December 18, 2008

    The Humanitarian Futures Programme [HFP] held its second Stakeholders Forum from 13-14 November 2008 in London, with great success.

    Over the 1 ½ day event, two of HFP’s four major themes were considered – collaboration and innovation – in order to review the relevance of HFP’s approaches to these two themes to the needs of the humanitarian sector and to recommend ways that HFP’s approaches to these and related themes could be enhanced. HFP’s two other main themes are organisational anticipation and adaptation. Annex I and II provide the Stakeholders Forum Programme and Participants List, respectively, while Annex III provides thematic notes on collaboration and innovation.

    The Stakeholders’ Forum was privileged to have as speakers in order of presentation Professor Sir David King [Director of Oxford University’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment], Dr. Eric Rasmussen [President, InSTEDD], Mr. Ben Ramalingam [Head of Research and Development, ALNAP], Dr. Babar Kabir [Director, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, BRAC], Ms Stacey White [Senior Research Associate, HFP], Dr. Jon A. Frederickson [Director of Innovation Expansion, InnoCentive], Dr. Jemilah Mahmood [President, Mercy Malaysia].

    The sessions were ably chaired by Professor Mervyn Frost [King’s College, London]. Mr. Ed von Schenkenberg [Coordinator, International Council of Voluntary Agencies], Dr. Neil Macdonald [Godwana Development Associates], Mr. Michael Jones [UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Tajikistan], Ms Margareta Wahlstrom [Director, UN International Strategy for Natural Disaster Reduction] and Mr. James Darcy [Director, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute].

    More details and a summary will be posted here soon.