Priority Setting Amid the Rubble: Organizational Responses to Post-Disaster Reconstruction in Haiti

Since 2012, this project has been investigating how development organizations establish, and act on, priorities in urban, post-disaster reconstruction. It is motivated by a longstanding observation that the priorities of organizations engaged in disaster response are often unaligned. As an example, in post-earthquake Haiti, donor funding for transportation has exceeded government requests by 510%, while funding for strengthening democratic institutions has reached only 20% of the government’s target. Unaligned priorities are of concern, in part, because they can hinder coordinated action. While there is a small but established literature on organizational responses to disasters, it has largely focused on immediate disaster response, not reconstruction. Where it has addressed reconstruction, it hasn’t investigated the issue of priority setting across the diverse range of organizations increasingly engaged in this dimension of urban planning.

Recognizing that the social science community working on disasters is small and that social science theory development in this area is relatively limited, this project seeks to contribute to a more robust understand of organizational responses to urban reconstruction. It draws on detailed interviews conducted with seven categories of development organizations working in post-earthquake Haiti: intergovernmental organizations, bilateral aid agencies, large international NGOs, small international NGOs, private development contractors, Haitian government agencies, and local Haitian NGOs. Employing both quantitative and qualitative methods, the project analyzes how these different actors have established priorities and chosen to act on them and evaluates how organizational dynamics in the field of post-disaster reconstruction influence these decisions. The research seeks to inform policy by suggesting ways to improve the coordination of reconstruction efforts, an important task in a field that includes an increasingly diverse array of organizational actors.

Sponsored by the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies