People-centred reconstruction

What does it mean to truly put people at the centre of the reconstruction process? It means seeing housing as a process, not merely the provision of a product.

First, it means trusting people themselves to make choices, rather than handing those choices over to professionals (architects and engineers). That includes choices about designs, procurement of materials, who will do the construction, and the use of specific technologies. People need to take control of these choices as early as possible. Professionals need to play a different role – of supporting and facilitating, but not dictating those choices.

Second, it means ensuring that everyone is included: house-owners, but also tenants and squatters. It allows people to get involved in different ways according to their needs.

Third, it means thinking about livelihoods as part of the reconstruction process. That includes the income-earning opportunities from construction, but also how housing (its location and design) is part of how people make a living. People should emerge more resilient – not long-term dependent.

Finally, it means leaving people and communities (as well as their housing and infrastructure) more resilient against all kinds of future risks.

There is still relatively limited experience of how to make this a reality, and what it takes in practice. The Tools we have developed try to fill some of that gap by giving useful tips, resources, and case studies of how it has been done.

Why it is a better approach

Research and learning from the reconstruction phases following previous disasters have shown that people-centred processes tend to produce the following results :

  • Better value for money (better quality or larger housing for the same amount of money)
  • Better quality (so long as there is sufficient technical advice, training and information)
  • Less time taken between the disaster and people moving back into their homes
  • Empowerment
  • Less dependency
  • Far greater satisfaction with the final results

Components of a PCR approach

Current experience indicates that these seven components are important in achieving PCR at scale. They are related to the general principles of ‘building back better’ but here we talk about how they relate to housing and infrastructure specifically. 

Learn from what was already happening in housing
A starting point has to be talking to residents, local builders, professionals and authorities about how housing was built before disaster struck. Some local technologies may have withstood the disaster better than others.

Assess what makes people vulnerable
From a housing and infrastructure perspective this means understanding why houses collapsed, but also what the underlying reasons were for that (poverty, availability of knowledge and skills, local laws and regulations etc.).

People participate from an early stage
Growing evidence shows that the more people have taken their own decisions about how housing should be rebuilt, the more satisfied they are with the end results. Not only that, but they end up more empowered and with the skills necessary to maintain or extend their housing in future.

Include all people
Recent experiences of reconstruction highlight two types of exclusion in housing. First, exclusion of people who have no formal property title (owners with no proof of ownership, squatters, and tenants). Second, exclusion of weaker people as local elites take control.

Empower people
To enable people to take their own decisions, professionals need to play a new role. They need to provide sufficient information and technical support to residents to allow them to take charge of issues such as procurement and construction, so they can have effective discussions with builders, materials suppliers and others. Social mobilisation and strengthening community networks is also crucial for taking collective decisions.

Incorporate livelihoods
Housing is often a key part of how people make a living – serving as a workshop, small shop, or store for products and equipment. Housing may be located in particular places because of its link to livelihoods. These factors need to be taken into account in designs. At the same time, there are lots of opportunities for local markets and income-earning in the reconstruction process itself.

Build so people are more resilient

What PCR involves


  • Allow people to stay on their land and rebuild (or supervise the rebuilding of) their own homes
  • If relocation is absolutely essential, minimise the duration and distance of displacement and ensure transport services
  • Ensure security of tenure and property rights, in particular for women who are often disadvantaged and have weak rights to property in many countries.
  • Allow people to be involved throughout the process - not just in the construction phase. Support people to make informed choices about recovery and reconstruction.
  • Use local artisans and support the rebuilding of local markets and livelihoods
  • Adopt or improve vernacular construction technologies that have proven to resist the disaster reasonably well, as these are well known and need less capacity-building.
  • Provide adequate technical support to ensure quality is good (so that houses and services are better quality than before and able to resist future disasters)
  • Ensure compliance with reconstruction standards, and adopt local building regulations and codes. But do not set standards too high to make compliance difficult, especially once reconstruction aid dries up. Consider incremental housing standards.
  • Consider the environment in rebuilding, because it is often a contributory factor in the disaster or the severity of its impact
  • Help people prepare for future disasters through awareness-raising, and involving everyone in preparing and planning for the future.
  • Be flexible, monitor progress with the affected people, and make changes as necessary.


  • Only use large contracting companies
  • Ignore local markets and artisans
  • Relocate people permanently to places far from their livelihoods and social networks unless there are critical safety risks
  • Ignore the most vulnerable groups whose circumstances may be complicated, such as squatters, tenants, those who have lost family members, or are disabled.
  • Rebuild in ways which leave people just as vulnerable to future disasters.
  • Destroy the environment even further in the rush to rebuild



Tools for Practitioners
This toolkit focuses on People Centred Reconstruction by and for poor people in urban and rural locations. The links will take you to an information page for each specific tool in the kit or alternatively you can visit our Practical Answers: Disasters and Mitigation Reconstruction page for the entire kit and other useful resources.

PCR Position Paper - Putting People at the Centre of Reconstruction(PDF, 719k)
Michal Lyons and Theo Schilderman (eds)
The overriding aim of reconstruction programmes should be to make people more resilient to future risks and change. That requires both making their buildings more resistant and safer to live or work in, and helping people themselves become more capable of adapting to risk and change. Where it comes to housing, building back better is narrowly interpreted by many agencies as reconstructing houses that are more resistant to disasters than previous types. That concern for quality is a key reason for them to prefer reconstruction designed by architects and engineers, and built by contractors. Such an approach is not only expensive, but does little to make people become more resilient.

Download PDF (719k)

Building Back Better: Delivering people-centred housing reconstruction at scale (PDF, 2MB)
Michal Lyons and Theo Schilderman (eds)
This book asks whether large-scale reconstruction can be participatory and developmental; can rebuilding be truly people-centred, contributing to breaking the cycle of poverty and dependence? Building Back Better examines the context for reconstruction, and shows how developments in the fields of housing, participation and livelihoods have changed and enriched approaches to reconstruction.

This is the product of institutional collaboration between the IFRC, LSBU and Practical Action.

Download PDF (2MB)
Order hard copy from Development Bookshop

Energy Resources for Recovery and Reconstruction

In emergencies, people are displaced for a long time, especially in the poorer parts of the world. They will need energy as soon as they settle in an emergency shelter, and hence the energy provision needs to be considered right from the beginning of an emergency response.

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Water & Sanitation Resources for Recovery and Reconstruction

During and after a disaster, be it natural (e.g. earthquake) or societal (e.g. armed conflict), it is likely that large amounts of people will be displaced into situations whereby they lose access to infrastructure vital to everyday living. Even populations that have not been displaced may have ...

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