Driving in the Fog: Do employment programs reduce instability?

Organization: Secretariat of the Knowledge Platform Security & Rule of Law

In late June 2017, Tilman Brück and Neil Ferguson from the International Security and Development Centre, Eleonora Nillessen from The United Nations University Maastricht, and David Connolly from The Hague Institute for Global Justice presented the findings from their NWO-WOTRO funded research, which asked, in short, whether opportunity, and in particular employment programs, reduced instability and violence?

Before delving into the research findings, the presenters outlined some of the theoretical logic behind existing employment for stability programs: 

  • Stability is usually considered to be a necessary condition for peace and development;

  • Conversely, a lack of opportunity, unresolved grievances, and poor social capital are all considered drivers of violence - so providing those things through waged employment might help to prevent violence;

  • Employment for stability programs are also increasingly being feted as having links to the question du jour of how to manage migration flows to Europe in a sensitive way.

This logic was sound, but the problem, the presenters noted, was the lack of evidence to support it. Whilst employment programs are perhaps intuitively linked to stabilization, there is no real evidence base proving that point, let alone identifying where the entry points may be to start working on it. Indeed,  the findings showed that of 432 programmes reviewed in the research only 12% had any evaluations carried out at all. What this demonstrated was that on this issue we have a case of strong theory with weak empiricism.

But, where data was available, the evidence was damning:

  • There is almost no relation between employment programs and stability;

  • Even where data captured instances of things getting a little better, any potential correlation is not on a scale sufficient enough to cause the seismic shifts needed in a fragile society to achieve stability. Indeed the research found no spill over effects from employment for stability programs – either you’re in it or you’re not.

  • There were also some surprising findings from Kyrgyzstan, where having a job decreased people’s perceptions of safety by 3%, and trust in people by 2%. The presenters tentatively put this down to people perhaps fearing losing their new financial gains, or of feeling like a new target for crime now that they had waged employment. Whatever the reason, the finding itself raises serious doubts about the existing logic behind employment for stability programs.

So what does this mean for employment and stability programs?

Firstly, and as a matter of urgency, more learning and more evidence is needed to really ascertain the validity of the connections between employment and stability. This includes thinking about exactly how to connect the two in practice.

Secondly, far more attention must be paid to analyzing and understanding the stability component. At present stability is measured through a series of questions on trust, life satisfaction, and opportunities available. This does a job, but instruments and approaches could be nuanced somewhat to capture more complete pictures of stability, including concepts such as legitimacy – for example, we know very well that illegitimate regimes can remain nominally stable through coercive means.

Thirdly, programs could and should also be designed with the intent of capturing the links between employment and stability from the outset. It was recommended that more explicit theories of change, grounded in the contextual realities of each operational area, are needed. These ToCs should actively seek to raise the opportunity cost of violence, address underlying grievances, and create opportunities for improved social capital through employment schemes. This rigour will help overcome the logical laziness that has set in whereby jobs equal peace. And staff must be brought along on the journey, consulted, trained and supported so that the employment and stability strands can actually begin to fuse.

And finally, don’t panic – these findings are not conclusive. Maybe the data isn’t visible to demonstrate the connection between employment and stability, or maybe the tools are not available. The presenters described it as a case of “driving in the fog – there’s no need to stay at home, just take more care and pay more attention to details."

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