How to develop the anticipatory action framework?

An anticipatory action pilot involves implementing a formal mechanism at the country level called an anticipatory action framework or plan. This predetermines who gets how much money, to do what, based on which signal so that a problem can be caught before it becomes a crisis.

Trigger mechanisms

All anticipatory action frameworks include a trigger mechanism, which goes hand in hand with the development of a crisis timeline. A trigger mechanism translates the characteristics of a shock (such as drought or flooding) and/or its impact (such as food insecurity) into technical specifications. These specifications are the basis for what the plan will pre-emptively respond to. However, the prediction of shocks is not an exact science, and it is important for all partners to acknowledge at the outset that the trigger data and forecasting is not always precise.

The development of a trigger mechanism relies on the following steps:

Identifying the event

e.g. drought or flooding

Selecting the data source
Performing historical analysis
Identifying thresholds
Validating with other sources

Example of trigger: Ethiopia (2020-2021)

The trigger for drought in Ethiopia functions as a two-step determination tool: it first determines the projected severity of humanitarian need, as captured by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), and it then determines whether drought conditions are projected.

The framework’s activation is triggered under the condition that the pre-determined threshold for both food insecurity and drought is met in at least one single region of Ethiopia. Acknowledging the multidimensional impacts of drought, food security phases are used as a proxy indicator for worsening conditions across multiple sectors. The framework uses food security projections with a lead time of three to six months and seasonal as well as sub-seasonal rainfall forecasts.

Condition 1: Food insecurity

At least 20% of the population of one or more regions projected at IPC4+


At least 30 per cent of the population of a region projected at IPC3+ and an increase by 5 percentage points from the current estimate to the projected estimate

Condition 2: Drought

At least a 50 per cent probability of below-average rainfall from at least two seasonal rainfall forecasts


The food security report (IPC or FEWSNET) names drought as a driver of the situation’s deterioration

Example of trigger: Bangladesh (2020)

Flooding in Bangladesh is intense during some years, and it surpasses communities’ ability to cope. This causes deaths and the destruction of key infrastructure, livelihoods and homes.

Readiness trigger

The water flow at the Bahadurabad gauging station, over a period of three days, was forecasted with a lead time of 10 days, to be more than 50 per cent likely to cross 100,000 m3/s

Activation trigger

The water level at Bahadurabad was forecast to cross the Government-defined “danger level” of + 0.85 metres.
+ 0.85 metres
  • Should the plan be based on a single shock or multiple shocks?
  • What are the specific types of shock (e.g. flooding)?
  • Do other anticipatory action projects exist to tackle this shock?
  • How localized are these shocks? Are they regional, global or national?
  • If they are national, what other trusted data sources are already available at a local level (e.g. localized weather forecasts)?
  • Which leading science institutions could support trigger analytics?
  • How severe and rare should the shock be to be activated?
  • What is classified as ‘severe’?
  • Is a worsening trend required for the framework to be activated in relation to a slow-onset shock?
  • What historical data or hindcasts are available?
  • How will climate change play a role?
  • How will back-to-back events be acknowledged in the trigger (e.g. two consecutive rainy seasons)?
  • What types of shock impact should be considered (e.g. food insecurity following crop damage)?
  • How can the impact of the shock be predicted?
  • At what level of impact should the framework be activated?
  • In what regions and when are the shocks likely to occur?
  • What is the window of opportunity to act? Will this window be measured in days, weeks or months?
  • What are the most appropriate regions, lead times and times of year for the activities under consideration?
  • Can lessons be learned from other anticipatory action initiatives that exist locally or which have been carried out?
  • What existing inter-sectoral risk analysis is available? (e.g. Humanitarian Needs Overview or Emergency Response Preparedness) 
  • What trusted local data sources are available?
  • Are stakeholder consultations possible?
  • What shock or impact indicators are most adapted for the local context, which levels are most appropriate and how detailed (e.g. dry spells or rising food prices)?
  • How much lead time do the activities require? Is that before the shock begins, peaks, or the impact reaches a threshold? 
  • How much uncertainty is acceptable when making the activation decision? In other words, what are the costs of a false positive (having activated but the shock did not occur) and of a false negative (not having activated and the shock did occur)? 
  • Are there activities that can be implemented with lower levels of certainty because of their low risk and/or cost? 
  • Who triggers the pilot based on what information?
  • How does the information flow work (determine forecast monitoring and alerting arrangements)?
  • How many trigger events per calendar year?
  • For sudden-onset anticipatory action with a short lead time, will the pilot require a readiness and action trigger (within a matter of days/weeks of one another)?

Crisis timeline

A crisis timeline aims to assess how the humanitarian crisis is likely to evolve once the shock occurs, the impact pathways and the consequences of the shock. The timeline also presents how humanitarian needs typically unfold, providing insight into how the consequences of a shock manifest themselves and when failures might occur, such as displacements and diseases. Development of the crisis timeline runs in parallel with developing the trigger mechanism. A crisis timeline is particularly important for slow-onset crises, e.g. seasonal shocks such as monsoons. A sudden-onset emergency may have a timeline that is measured in a matter of days between the readiness trigger and the shock itself.

Mapping out the crisis in a context-specific manner helps to understand the windows of opportunity for each activity. Once a crisis timeline has been completed, a separate calendar of activities can then be produced and overlaid with the crisis timeline so that the start and finish times of activities and impacts are clearly mapped out, in addition to lead-in times for financing and preparations.

  • When does the shock occur? 
  • When will alerts be issued? 
  • When will the impacts materialize and for how long? 
  • Which sectors will be affected? 
  • When should people begin to take action? 
  • What is a key predictable driver of humanitarian need?​ 
  • What are the indicators for the type of crisis that would be targeted?​ 
  • Where were the impacts of this shock evident in the past? 
  • What would the lead time be for actions that would help avoid the worst outcomes of the shock? 
  • When were the worst recent occurrences of this type of crisis (e.g. drought or flood)?​ 
  • Would a geographical/targeted focus be best?​ 
  • What current monitoring systems are in place? 

The Anticipatory Action Framework

The anticipatory action framework brings together a number of different planning elements already discussed in this toolkit. It is the central place where a plan is assembled, addressing different scenarios that may materialize at different times. Anticipatory actions will be planned that can interrupt the different pathways outlined in the crisis timeline by targeting populations most at risk of being impacted by a shock, and pre-identifying sectors. Plans include pre-agreed actions and processes for releasing finance.


Anticipatory action plans rely on up-to-date information such as lists of beneficiaries for cash distribution, contact details, contracts and weather predictions. Consider how regularly the plan should be updated to remain current and relevant at the time of activation.

Key screening questions for anticipatory action planning

Anticipatory character

Is the action effective in preventing or reducing the humanitarian impact of the shock?

No regrets

In the case of a false alarm, will the actions benefit (rather than negatively impact) the targeted population?

Markets and supply chain

Are markets functioning, is currency stable and are there supply chains, banking facilities and delivery routes for humanitarian assistance to reach affected areas?

Preferences and attitudes

Do governments and affected populations allow humanitarian assistance in the targeted areas and if so, is there a preference or restriction on certain forms of assistance (e.g. cash in hand)


Do agencies and the partners have capacity and operational readiness to implement the action effectively given the lead time and scale?

Access and registration

Is there physical and social access to assistance for all the impacted population, including the most vulnerable? Are there already existing programmes, either nationally or internationally led which have registration systems or beneficiary lists in place?


Is it possible to carry out the action effectively with the available forecast lead time, i.e. in the window of opportunity?

Each action plan addresses the following questions:

  • What is the scope and scale of the anticipatory action plan?
  • What is the crisis timeline?
  • What are the triggers?
  • What are the pre-identified anticipatory actions
    • Anticipatory character: is the action effective in preventing or reducing the humanitarian impact
  • What is the level of operational readiness?
    • How will the priority needs be met, through which modality and activities or combination of?
      For example, if markets are not functioning or cash is not feasible, what goods and/or services can be provided to meet the needs?
    • What is the preference or attitude of affected people regarding the type of assistance they would prefer to receive? Could it be delivered through more than one type of assistance
    • Does the context prevent either specific forms of assistance or specific groups to be targeted?
    • Logistically how will the activity be delivered and is access for the assistance available for the most vulnerable populations (both physical and social access)
    • Are programmes already in place that the plan can build on?
      For example, are there existing social safety nets in place, or has there been assistance provided previously that would have registered large groups of potential beneficiaries
    • Lead time: is it possible to carry out the action effectively with the available forecast lead time, i.e. in the window of opportunity?
    • Agency capacity: does the agency and its implementing partners have the institutional capacity (thematic, logistic, administrative, financial, human resources) to implement the action effectively given the lead time and scale?
    • Which partners will you work with to undertake the activity?
    • What operational cross-cutting issues and/or opportunities are there to align with other sectors/clusters or agencies?
  • What pre-committed financing is available for the actions?
  • If applying for CERF funding, have the proposals been prepared in advance? What is the decision-making protocol once the trigger is met?
  • What happens once the triggers are met and the plan needs to be activated?
  • How will the plan be evaluated?


An anticipatory action framework seeks to serve as an overview of the anticipatory actions that are most likely to help mitigate the impact of a shock, stabilize vulnerable people and prepare for scale up for humanitarian action. The framework is intended to enable bilateral donors and pooled funding instruments to pre-commit finance and disburse funding when the above-outlined triggers are reached. Donors could include, but are not limited to, CERF, the World Bank’s Crisis Response Window, pooled funding mechanisms such as IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund, or the Start Network or Education Cannot Wait, Government funding, bilateral donors, and UN agencies’ internal reserve funds. When the need arises, each of these donors could finance part of this plan within their own established criteria and in complementarity. 

The goal of anticipatory action is to release financing and deliver assistance before the crisis. OCHA uses CERF to disperse funds. There are two points during which CERF may disperse assistance: in readiness and in action/implementation. 

An action trigger represents a post-disbursement ‘go’ versus a ‘stand-down’ moment. If the decision is to stand down, the donor will likely want to ensure that most of the disbursed funds are not automatically spent. In the pilots, CERF addressed this issue by requiring agencies to distinguish between readiness versus action costs, stipulating that action costs could be spent only if the trigger is reached.  

Note that some activities fall beyond what CERF can finance, such as those concerned with infrastructure. However, it is important to design anticipatory action plans that incorporate everything that requires funding rather than what CERF can actually fund. This way all real funding needs are reflected in a plan. A full overview of the needs may allow for more funding to be crowded in later. 

  • Which donors are willing to fund anticipatory action? 
  • What are they willing to fund? 
  • How and when will funds be disbursed in relation to the triggers? 
  • Should projects be pre-approved by donors before the trigger is reached?  
  • What if there’s a false alarm after funds have already been disbursed? (This is particularly important if the trigger has two stages [readiness vs. action], and funds are being disbursed once the readiness trigger is reached.) 
  • For sudden-onset anticipatory action that relies on a short window of opportunity and an initial warning with limited confidence: can 100 per cent of funds be disbursed and spent on a no-regrets basis? Or will the donor want to ‘ringfence’ a portion of funds on a no-regrets basis? 
  • Will the donor also fund post-shock (i.e. regular response) activities in addition to anticipatory action?  

Fifth, and finally, we need to anticipate crises and act early. To do this we need to get the financing right. Over half of all crises are at least somewhat predictable and 20 per cent are very predictable. Yet less than 1 per cent of funding is pre-arranged. We need significantly more dedicated and predictable financing to bring preparedness to scale and to release funds before a disaster, rather than asking for funds when people are already suffering. For example, support from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund can prevent hunger and disease, improve people’s well-being and protect their incomes and livestock.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

Accountability to Affected People

As anticipatory action and disaster-risk financing mature, there is a need to better understand and implement accountability, particularly towards people who are at risk. There is growing awareness of this, but application remains nascent. Accountability and a commitment to evaluation for those who directly benefit from actions will help to raise standards across the board. In some cases, anticipatory action provides more time to consult with people at risk and ask them what they need and when.

Further reading: Accountability in Disaster Risk Financing 

Photo: FAO/Luca Sola

OCHA commissioned a local research team to study and learn from the experience of families affected by floods and dry spells in Malawi. The objectives of the study were to incorporate the knowledge and expectations of nearly 1,000 vulnerable households into the anticipatory action framework. Through the information collected, the study aimed to improve the pertinence, quality and timing of the framework being developed by the United Nations Country Team to predict floods and dry spells. In turn, this would trigger the release of CERF funding for the implementation of a pre-agreed plan, and pre-target the framework’s locations and beneficiaries to ensure it helps the most vulnerable and risk-exposed people.

Learning framework

The anticipatory action country pilots that OCHA launched in 2020 and 2021 are a steppingstone towards making anticipatory action more sustainable and scalable. A learning framework helps us to make logical choices about where to try anticipatory action next by assessing the feasibility, impact and quality of the anticipatory actions. OCHA used the learning framework for each pilot to dedicate time to reflect as a team on lessons learned, identify areas for greater attention or support and plan how to put learning into future action. A dedicated Monitoring and Evaluation Group can help input into the design and implementation of these learnings and place an emphasis on individual agencies carrying out monitoring and evaluation. 

Key screening questions for anticipatory action planning


What determining factors make anticipatory action possible?

Complementarity/ connectedness

Can anticipatory action be brought to scale by complementing or being integrated into existing humanitarian planning tools and processes (e.g., ERP and HPC)?


How much impact does anticipatory action have compared to rapid response?


How can anticipatory action be done better?

Foundations of effective learning

Cultivate a learning mindset

Innovation takes courage. It involves taking risks and recognizing what we don’t know or understand. Challenges will arise, requiring openness and creativity to overcome.

Build trust and transparency.

Share, document and learn from challenges that arise. The greater the trust and transparency among partners in this collective effort, the more critical lessons can be integrated into current and future anticipatory action here and globally.

Learning is an active, collective process

Learning requires intentional time spent reflecting, asking questions, and listening to and documenting perspectives, most importantly those of people impacted by disaster.

Three main components of anticipatory action

This helps to understand and share the benefits and challenges of designing and implementing anticipatory action frameworks in various contexts. Data collection may include bilateral conversations between: 

  • OCHA and the pilot roll-out team  
  • Colleagues from partner UN agencies and INGOs 
  • Other stakeholders (Government agency contacts, World Bank, etc.) 

Data collection could also include group “action learning reviews” on whether key assumptions are holding true. 

This helps teams to understand what support was delivered by when, to how many people at what cost, and gain the self-reported beneficiary view of support. Indicators could be considered such as: 

  • If the cost per beneficiary reached is lower or the amount of support provided per beneficiary reached is higher (relative to historic costs). 
  • Beneficiaries were reached more quickly than in a usual response (calculated based on historic response times).  
  • Beneficiaries report that early intervention was important/they experienced less hardship before having received support (via beneficiary assessment). 

This provides an understanding of the impact of anticipatory action on mortality, morbidity, income and asset losses among beneficiaries relative to a control group. It should begin early in the planning phase in alignment with framework development. Key considerations: 

  • Baseline data is not essential for an impact evaluation (depending on the strategy used). However, an end-line survey and a comparison group are essential. 
  • The comparison group could comprise people who received support at a later date, people who received different types of support (i.e. comparing one package of support to another), or people who experienced the shock but were just ineligible for support. 
  • It is crucial to document what criteria were used to select beneficiaries and, as possible, introduce some arbitrary element into selection.

How to activate the plan

Activation protocols: Once the trigger has been defined, monitoring begins, ideally in country. If the trigger is met, then protocol should already be in place (in the anticipatory action plan) to define which processes will take place to activate the plan, with the HC or RC responsible for the final decision to activate. 

STEP 1Data validation
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Validate the data and inform appropriate parties
STEP 2Analysis
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Rapidly analyse the projected impact, produce a short two-pager outlining predictions
STEP 3Anticipatory Action plan
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Recalibrate anticipatory action plan – bilateral calls with partners to ensure everyone is aligned.
STEP 4Donor notification
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Notify the donor that the trigger has been reached and prepare and submit funds (templates should have been pre-filled)
STEP 5Disbursement approval
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Due diligence and disbursement approval
STEP 6Communications
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Communications and publicity