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From understanding to promoting change: making better security and justice programming happen


Are security and justice (S&J) programs in fragile and conflict-affected countries (FCAS) fit for purpose? Existing literature demonstrates that this is not the case, so why is awareness of the limitations of the international community’s current approaches to programming not leading to the expected degree of change? And what does it take?

Security & justice programming challenges

Current programming approaches tend to pull from pre-existing standardized and limited menus of activities that are applied irrespective of context, and often executed in an overly technical and concept-driven manner. Programs continue to be silo-ed, both within the S&J field, and with respect to how they are connected with broader development efforts. While a significant amount of time is invested in good program design, this is much less the case for program implementation and monitoring. Furthermore, our understanding of the political economy in which programs play out remains inadequate and national ownership of programs continues to be both ill-understood and underemphasized.

Currently, domestic donor politics increasingly drive development efforts, displacing the political dynamics in fragile and conflict-affected States as prime factors of influence. In addition, domestic accountability requirements, rather than genuinely learning from successes and mistakes, form a key driver of much programming.

How to overcome the 3 main hurdles?

To explore these challenges in greater detail, the event delved into three key issues that seem to stand in the way of better programming in the S&J area:

1) The strong domestic focus on donor accountability prevents a more diverse and flexible interpretation of results from arising

As a result, ways need to be explored in which donor accountability can be broadened and rendered more sophisticated:

  1. Given the difficulties in measuring S&J program results and the relative meaninglessness of many indicators, the present focus on “outcome indicators” should be replaced by an understanding of the processes by which outcomes are reached, and what local stakeholders or coalitions play a role.
  2. Overall, we appear interested in counting our successes, but not in understanding change. Rather than thinking about outputs and outcome measurements, which tell us little about change, donors should focus more on the process and relational aspects of change. Learning should be at the center of S&J programming.
  3. A much stronger and principled approach by donors to strengthening local (in addition to donor-only) accountability - underpinned by a corresponding devolution of power to local organizations, is urgently needed given the significant imbalances in how S&J programs are currently designed.
  4. Longer-term programming (8-10 years)would help spur change that is more sustainable in nature.

2) Staff skillsets amongst many international development organizations are currently inadequate for good S&J programming

As a result, we need to pay much greater attention to nurturing and mobilizing the skills needed for such programming, including highly developed change management, risk management and diplomatic skills:

  1. To develop flexible and adaptive approaches to programming, staff do not only need to have the right capacities but also display a certain personality. Emerging evidence suggests that the following aspects matter: entrepreneurial, networking and relationship-building skills, a natural curiosity, an interest in local politics, good analytical skills, and humility. As a case in point, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-supported “Strategy Testing” approach invites donor staff to regularly test and challenge their programmatic assumptions, revisit theories of changes, adjust programs accordingly, and ensure the documentation of learning.
  2. Nonetheless, no single person can do it all. The focus should lay on the right combination of skills within a team, which involves experts, generalists as well as operational program managers.

3) The procedures, habits and paradigms of large donor bureaucracies create inertia that prevents areas for innovation in which programmatic experimentation can occur from emerging

Big organizations have a tendency to have fixed routines that are resilient to change in the face of relative failure. Combined with pressures such as ministers demanding immediate action and results, this promotes setting priorities in a risk-averse manner and short-term thinking. In which instances do bureaucracies innovate or “overcome” themselves?

  1. Decentralization to e.g. Embassies has proven to be an effective method to adopt more flexible approaches to programming.
  2. Reducing the amount of development funding per donor staff member can free up resources for analysis and reflection instead of administration and reporting.
  3. Regular strategy meetings can help test, discuss and develop ideas. Staff should receive training on out-of-the-box thinking and rewards for innovation. Meanwhile donor budgets can be earmarked for creative programs.