From Principle to Practice: A User’s Guide to Do No Harm

October 2015 | Marshall Wallace

This book is a Guide for Users. The book is built to be used. Every pair of pages, front and back, go together. This book can be taken apart. Pull out any page and you will have a complete concept or set of concepts. Use it!


[ This is a slightly edited version of From Principle to Practice: A User’s Guide to Do No Harm as posted on All changes were made by CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. Most changes are minor language edits. ]

This Guide is built on the experience and learning of the many, many people around the world who use Do No Harm in their daily work. It also reflects the experiences and dilemmas of many would-be users who have, for a variety of reasons, found it difficult to apply Do No Harm as they want to.

Over several years, the Do No Harm Project has visited people around the world who are working with the Do No Harm approaches and tools – or trying to do so. We have listened to them, learned from them, and worked with them. This Guide emerged from this ongoing collaboration. Through these many users and would-be users, the Do No Harm Project has gathered what appears here.

This Guide is Do No Harm focused. It is truly a Users’ Guide, in that it both reflects how people find Do No Harm most useful, and it translates it into new approaches, tools, and techniques that others can pick up, learn, and use.

From all of these efforts, as our worldwide users tell us, the impacts of interventions are not only predictable, they are traceable and, most important, they can be improved. The users of Do No Harm, who are the real “authors” of this Guide, report on how they have been able to engage with the social dynamics of their environments in the ongoing processes of their work to ensure that harm is not unwittingly done. Moreover, they are able to engage the social dynamics so that the outcomes of their work are increasingly supportive of significant, positive, lasting change in their societies.

This book exists only because tens of thousands of people have taken up and contributed to the concepts, ideas, techniques, and tools of Do No Harm. Do No Harm has been circulating around the NGO and international communities for 20 years. The changes in practice and policy from the early days are immense. I owe all of you a debt of thanks for teaching me so much about the world and about how great things are accomplished by dedicated, thoughtful people. You have made a difference. May this book continue to help you as you have helped so many others.

This book was made possible by the generous support of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, US Agency for International Development, and the UK Department for International Development for the Do No Harm Project at CDA Collaborative Learning Projects. Portions of this book are derived from Guidance Notes available from CDA.