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Risk analysis

Last edited: January 03, 2012

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Unlike SWOT and PESTEL analysis, risk analysis does not only examine the present situation, but asks the question “what might go wrong?” It examines the likelihood of new problems surfacing, or existing threats and weaknesses worsening, and the potential impact of this on the campaign. Risk analysis is needed to plan for emergencies and contingencies.

More specifically, risk analysis examines:

  • External threats that may affect the target audience generally or in relation to the campaign, e.g. a rise in conservative religious sentiment or likely armed conflict
  • External threats that may affect the campaign activities, e.g. a law might be adopted that limits NGO activism, change in government or policy or a new education policy may make access to schools more difficult
  • Internal threats that may affect the capacity to run the campaign, e.g. an alliance member might leave, or key campaigners might no longer be available for the campaign
Risk analysis does not focus on existing weaknesses, such as lack of funding. It anticipates future problems – e.g. the possible lack of donor response to your fundraising strategy.
Practical Instructions for Risk Analysis
Use or adapt the template below. For each risk identified, consider how likely the risk is and how serious the consequences would be if it were to materialize. Scoring determines which risks deserve particular attention. In the example below, scoring from 1 to 10 is used; alternatively you can use a simpler system with just three scores (“high – medium – low”).
Risk Probability (1 – very unlikely; 10 – highly likely Impact (1 – insignificant; 10 – very serious) How to minimize or mitigate the risk?
For each risk that is probable and likely to produce medium to strong impact, conduct contingency planning – i.e. define ways of reducing the likeliness the risk occurs, and of reducing the likely impact on attaining the campaign goal. That may include increasing or limiting certain activities – e.g., if donors do not respond to your institutional fundraising strategy, decide whether to submit funding proposals to other donors, or to reduce activities to match existing resources. If risks are identified that are highly likely, extremely grave and unmanageable, consider adjusting the campaign strategy.

“Prospective hindsight” (Coffmann, 2007:14) is another way of assessing the risks and obstacles that need to be taken into account when designing a campaign.


Practical instructions for “prospective hindsight”

When you have completed the steps of planning outlined in this section—issue setting, stakeholder analysis, situation analysis, developing a theory of change—, get together as a campaign team and with members of the target audience for the following exercise (adapted from Klugman, B., 2009. Less is More :Thoughts on Evaluating Social Justice Advocacy).

Assume that the effort has failed. Advocates and any other stakeholders involved in the effort are asked to identify possible reasons for failure. Do it individually. Each person then shares one reason from their list until all reasons have been recorded.  The result is a comprehensive list of risks that you should be cognizant of and monitor. This process uses everybody’s insights and “mitigates the overconfidence” that campaigners might feel. If it feels overly demoralizing, then the team should carefully explore why.

Note that this is similar to the ‘risks/assumptions’ column of a logical framework. That column tends to focus on external factors, whereas this exercise can pick up a wide range of things that could go wrong and should be addressed in advance.