ICSU publishes independent mid-term review of Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) programme

ICSU has published the 2016 Review of the Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR) programme, led by an independent panel whose conclusions are intended to inform the next 3-4 year phase of the program.

The 7-person panel was chaired by Zenda Ofir, see below for the full list of panel members.

Overall, the review concludes that “upon its establishment, IRDR was a well-conceptualized, timely and innovative – potentially even pioneering – initiative in the increasingly important domain of disaster risk reduction.” However, “progress has been slow, and the program foci and results too limited to meet the goals of the Science Plan and the expectations created by the program.”

Reasons for the disappointing results include:

  • Decisions during inception prompted by challenges in how such Interdisciplinary Bodies are set up
  • Fast turnover in Executive Directors at the international program office in Beijing (the first such office set up outside Europe by ICSU)
  • A series of governance, leadership and management weaknesses, including a failure to raise sufficient program funds to give life to its strategic intent

Nevertheless, the review panel concluded that IRDR remains a very worthwhile endeavour, as it maintains a significant niche and comparative advantage that continue to provide a good value proposition for stakeholders, both scientific and non-scientific. “It remains well positioned in an important area of work, and has been making fair progress in spite of significant obstacles.”

The policy relevance of the program has been underscored by the preparation for and adoption of the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk reduction in 2015 by the world’s governments. IRDR played a key role in advocacy for science and the scientific community throughout that process.

The panel singled out two key choices that need to be made if IRDR “is to be more than ‘just another scientific program’”.

First, initiate completely new areas based on newly identified knowledge gaps that present major or intractable challenges for the field. Second strengthen, amplify and accelerate activities around its existing foci, and thus move further in line with the scope and intent of the initial Science Plan.

Key recommendations were:

  • Adjust the program scope and direction – strengthen and redirect efforts in order to achieve objectives set out in original Science Plan.
  • Improve business model – move from unsuccessful project-driven, ad hoc approach to a more strategic, programmatic approach. Tap unconventional sources of funding.
  • Sharpen governance – ensure proper oversight and appropriate lines of accountability, engage co-sponsors, use the strengths of each component of IRDR to relieve high burden of work on Scientific Committee.
  • Improve management – put monitoring, evaluation and knowledge management systems in place, enhance branding and communication.
  • Move towards collective impact – mobilizing successful community building efforts to date to align and collaborate as a global action network. Make use of the opportunity to do context-sensitive, innovative comparative work that can strengthen science for policy and practice.

The report also highlighted lessons for consideration for ICSU as a co-sponsor, given that IRDR’s governance system was based on the work of other ICSU Interdisciplinary Bodies. “The situation experienced in IRDR raises some questions about an approach where the Scientific Committee is the driver of the science, the manager of the IPO (eg defining the overall portfolio of activities, assessing ED performance), and allocator of funds – all while overseeing itself”. A key governance recommendation is to separate the functions of oversight, scientific leadership and guidance and program leadership and management.

IRDR was established in 2010 by the International Council for Science, the International Social Science Council (ISSC) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with financial report primarily from the China Association for Science and Technology, a national ICSU member.

Download the full report here.

Review Panel

  • Zenda Ofir, Chair
  • Janos Bogardi
  • Tom Beer
  • Barbara Carby
  • Gensuo Jia
  • Eko Teguh Paripurno
  • Roberto Sánchez-Rodríguez

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